Protecting the Covid-19 Heroes and Is Help on the Way?
First responders and health care professionals are at greatest risk of exposure to Covid-19, yet their daily job responsibilities are a crucial component of keeping the rest of the population healthy and virus free. Clearly without healthy first responders; police officers, EMT’s, firemen, doctors, nurses, hospital staff and the support staff, the rest of us will be in dire circumstances should we need assistance, let alone treatment for Covid-19. It would make sense then that the government at every level; municipal, State, and federal, make every effort to keep the first responders healthy, get them vaccinated, and afford protection both medical and monetary for their families from the virus as well.
Should a peace officer or nurse or other first responder contract Covid-19 and suffer debilitating disability or death there must be adequate insurance coverage and protection for that individual as well as his/her family to afford worker’s compensation insurance or other types of insurance, like death benefits.
Since April 2020, the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas (“CLEAT”) has been urging the Texas Governor to issue an executive order creating a “Covid Presumption”. The request was aimed at the State of Texas directing the Texas Department of Insurance and Texas Worker’s Compensation Commission to create a dictate that any Texas First Responder that tests positive for Covid-19 be covered and that the virus presumptively was contracted in the line of work or line of duty. This request followed federal legislation known as the Safeguarding America’s First Responders (SAFR) Act, which establishes a temporary presumption that Covid-19 infections will be considered to be contracted while on duty if diagnosed within 45 days of an officer’s last shift, making survivors eligible for federal benefits.
Covid-19 is not yet presumptive in Texas, and legislative action will be required to create the presumption that certain employees have contracted the virus in the scope of work and line of duty to trigger essential assistance and insurance coverage.
The Governor of Texas has taken no action; however, Texas legislators have filed House Bill 541, 34, and 396, and Senate Bill 107 all up for consideration in the current Texas legislative session. The bills all create a presumption that Covid-19, if contracted, was contracted in the course and scope of employment. HB 47 creates the presumption for school district employees; HB 396 for nurses, and SB 107 for peace officers, firefighters, and EMT’s for any contracted disease (that is the basis of a Governor disaster declaration) contracted in the course and scope of employment. Detention officers would also be added to this presumption and the other existing presumptions. Any disease made the basis of disaster as declared by the Governor would not be considered an ordinary disease of life.
There appears to be no state-wide initiative or legislation on file regarding vaccine distribution. The Texas Medical Association will focus on attempts to secure state funds to address public health needs that have been highlighted due to the Pandemic. A key initiative will be addressing the rollback or budget cuts the Texas Department of State Health Services has been asked to make.
Perhaps Washington D.C. will step in and help. On day 2 of the Biden Presidency the White House released a 200-page policy; “National Strategy for the Covid-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness”. The policy has 7 Goals to execute the strategy but of key interest is Goal Two: Mount a safe, effective, equitable vaccination campaign. The new federal policy calls on states to expand eligibility to frontline essential workers like educators, first responders, grocery store employees and anyone who is 65 and older. It also includes an initiative that will implement support from the federal government for state and local municipal efforts to enlist EMS agencies to launch community vaccination clinics, building on their critical role and expertise in disaster relief. We all want to return to pre-pandemic life and hopefully help is on the way for the heroes as well as the rest of us.
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