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Washington order protects workers at high-risk for coronavirus

The order says employers must accommodate workers with a high risk of serious illness from coronavirus, including those over 65 or who have health conditions.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee ordered workplace protections for people with higher risk of contracting severe illness from coronavirus, including those over the age of 65 and those with underlying health conditions.

Monday’s proclamation prohibits employers from permanently replacing high-risk employees during the coronavirus outbreak.

The order requires employers to provide alternative work assignments, including remote work for older and high-risk workers.

If alternative arrangements are not feasible, the order requires employers to maintain health insurance benefits for employees who are unable to work.

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The protections apply to workers 65 and older, as well as anyone with medical conditions such as asthma, heart disease, lung disease, diabetes, severe obesity, kidney disease, or other conditions identified by the Centers for Disease Control as putting someone at a higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

While the vast majority of people who get COVID-19 have mild symptoms, the CDC says it appears that people in those groups have the highest risk of severe illnesses or complications that require hospitalization, or that result in death.

According to the Washington Department of Health, more than 500 people have died of coronavirus in this state, and more than 90% of them have been people older than 60.

“If we can wrap our arms, put a bubble around people of this age and condition, we’re going to reduce fatality rates well more than half,” Inslee said Monday.

The protections apply until June 12 unless they are extended, the proclamation states.

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