How do we deal with the ‘ticking time bomb’ in agriculture?

Reid Maki is the director of child labor advocacy at the National Consumers League and he coordinates the Child Labor Coalition.

It’s been referred to as a “ticking time bomb,” the coronavirus and its potential impact on farmworkers—the incredibly hard-working men, women, and children who pick our fruits and vegetables and provide other vital agricultural work. Farmworkers perform dirty, back-breaking work, are notoriously underpaid for it, and now face great risk from COVID-19.

Farmworker advocacy groups that National Consumers League (NCL) works with or supports—such as Farmworker Justice, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, the United Farmworkers of America (UFW), the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, and a national cadre of legal aid attorneys—have spent weeks strategizing about ways to protect the community they know is especially vulnerable to the virus.

Advocates have reached out to administration officials and Congress for desperately needed resources to support impoverished farmworkers with little to show for it. Despite their essential contributions to the economy, farmworkers have been cut out of the emergency relief packages. The Trump Administration has even revealed plans to lower pay for agricultural guest workers who sacrifice home and family to come to the United States to perform arduous farm labor. Advocates fear that decreasing guest worker wages would drive down wages for farmworkers already living and working in the United States.

Farmworkers are poor, with extremely limited access to healthcare and, due to their poverty, often work through illness. The risks of an outbreak is especially great because workers often toil in close physical proximity to one another as they harvest, ride to the fields in crowded buses and cars, have limited access to sanitary facilities, including hand-washing, and often live in overcrowded, dilapidated housing.

The majority of farmworkers are immigrants from Mexico or are the children of Mexican immigrants. The community is socially isolated from mainstream America. Poverty forced many farmworkers to leave school at an early age. It also causes them to bring their children to work in the fields so that child labor can supplement their meager incomes. Language and cultural barriers further their isolation. NCL, through the Child Labor Coalition (CLC), which it founded and co-chairs, has committed to the fight to fix the broken child labor laws that allow children in agriculture to work at early ages—often 12—and to begin performing hazardous work at age 16.

When the virus began to move into America’s rural areas, many socially- and culturally-isolated farmworkers hadn’t heard about the virus.  Some were confused that the grocery store shelves were empty and that the bottled water they usually buy suddenly cost much more.

In some cases, farmworkers reported that the farmers they work for have not told them about the virus or the need to take special precautions while working. Farmworkers face an alarming dearth of protective equipment. Many farmworkers groups, including UFW and Justice for Migrant Women, are urgently racing to provide masks and other protective gear.

A farmworker with COVID-19 is unlikely to know he or she has it and, therefore, very likely to keep working and infect their family and coworkers. Recently, a growers group tested 71 tree fruit workers in Wenatchee, Washington, according to a report in the Capital Press newspaper. Although none of the workers were showing symptoms of COVID-19, 36 workers—more than half—tested positive!

The conditions faced by farmworkers are a “superconductor for the virus,” noted advocate Greg Asbed of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in a New York Times opinion piece, in which he concluded that “the U.S. food supply is in danger.”

The current circumstances reminded Asbed of a previous crisis: “A century ago in ‘The Jungle,’ Upton Sinclair wrote about how the teeming tenements and meatpacking houses where workers lived and labored were perfect breeding grounds for tuberculosis as it swept the country. Now there is a new pathogenic threat and the workers who feed us are once again in grave danger,” said Asbed, adding that the “ two most promising measures for protecting ourselves from the virus and preventing its spread—social distancing and self-isolation—are effectively impossible in farmworker communities” because farmworkers live and work so closely together.

The looming food crisis is not just an American phenomenon, reported the New York Times. “The world has never faced a hunger emergency like this, experts say. It could double the number of people facing acute hunger to 265 million by the end of this year,” noted reporter Abdi Latif Dahir. “The coronavirus pandemic has brought hunger to millions of people around the world. National lockdowns and social distancing measures are drying up work and incomes, and are likely to disrupt agricultural production and supply routes—leaving millions to worry how they will get enough to eat,” added Dahir.

An article in The Washington Post warned that, in the United States, the farm–to-grocery distribution system is breaking down under the strain of the virus and that farmers are plowing in fields of crops. The Trump administration has announced a $19 billion plan to buy agricultural products and get them to food banks, which are experiencing shortages and, in some cases, mile-long lines of cars waiting for help.

In the United States, the federal government’s responses have been focused on helping farmers—which is fine; we all want farmers to be helped—but we cannot forget or neglect the needs of desperately poor farmworkers. In the absence of federal aid, some states are working to protect vulnerable farmworker populations. To help achieve social-distancing, Washington State has set housing rules requiring guest workers have double the current space.

Wisconsin issued similar rules requiring six-foot social distancing for farmworkers as they work in the fields, ride on buses, and sleep in grower-provided housing. The plan mandates protections for farmworkers who acquire the virus and calls for fines of up to $500 for violations.

In an April 15 letter, Pennsylvania’s Governor Tom Wolf urged the U.S. Department of Agriculture to “take swift and decisive action to publicize and implement a plan to immediately and equitably stabilize the agriculture industry, and to support agriculture producers, food processors, workers, and local food systems, regardless of the size of the operation. This plan must include resources, guidance, and protection for these workers,” Wolf continued. “Every sector of agriculture, food processing and distribution, retail, grocery stores, and farmers markets are negatively impacted by COVID-19 and need support.”

“The closing of many child care facilities has meant many farmworker women must stay home with children, which translates to lost income and fewer workers for farmers,” noted Cleo Rodriguez, a CLC-member who heads the National Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Association.

“The closing of schools may mean that younger teens are increasingly pulled into agricultural child labor,” suggested Norma Flores López, who heads the CLC’s efforts to protect farmworker children. “We’re very concerned with the number of children that are going to be working in the fields,” said Flores López, adding that child labor increases children’s risk of exploitation, wage theft, and sexual exploitation.

Concerned about these developments, the CLC wrote letters this week to several appropriators and the Committee on Agriculture, asking for additional nutritional and childcare resources for farmworker families.

We all need to eat. It’s incumbent upon us to protect farmworkers and our food supply chain. “It’s time to step up,” said Rodriguez.

Here’s what consumers can do to help protect farmworkers in these dire circumstances:

  • Sign the Food Chain Workers Alliance to urge Congress to include resources for food chain workers: https://tinyurl.com/yddvcm2w.
  • Sign UFW’s petition urging Congress to stop Trump administration efforts to lower wages for agricultural guest workers: https://tinyurl.com/y9jgtsow.
  • Make masks and send them to farmworker groups in your state.
  • Urge congressional representatives to fund farmworker relief efforts.
  • Donate to any of the excellent farmworker groups we’ve mentioned in this piece.

A few out-of-the-box consumer tips for staying safe from coronavirus

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

At the National Consumers League, we’re all about protecting consumers during this terrible coronavirus pandemic. Most of us understand that we need to social distance, work from home if possible, wear masks when going out—especially on trips to the grocery or drug store—and not gather in groups larger than 10.

Yesterday, I had a conversation with my doctor to hear what she is telling patients about testing kit availability for both the virus and antibodies test, and to hear what other advice she is giving. She told me some things I’d like to pass along:

  • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) relaxed requirements for developing COVID-19 tests and as a result, there are many kits to test for antibodies available for sale but very few—4 to date—have been approved by the FDA as high-quality and accurate. Consumers, don’t waste your money on phony or inaccurate tests.
  • Neither she nor any doctor she knows has access to the high-quality antibody tests. The good news is that there is plenty of capacity for testing people with COVID-19 symptoms. That was not always the case, so it’s a hopeful sign that there will be high-quality antibody tests available when the industry really ramps up.
  • For those who’ve had COVID-19 and recovered, the presence of antibodies alone is not sufficient. The best tests will show the level of antibody protection and whether those levels meet the threshold to protect us from contracting the disease.
  • Contact tracing is critical to curb this illness. My doc has traveled throughout the world and lived abroad for periods of time. She says without contact tracing we cannot hope to contain the disease. Former Peace Corp workers and health care providers who have worked around the world have this down to a science. Anyone who has been exposed to someone with COVID-19 has to go into quarantine for 14 days. My doc says that USAID has been doing this for many years when there’s an outbreak and it’s critical to containing the disease.

Until the appropriate infrastructure to test and contact trace for COVID-19 is established, my doctor suggested the following:

  • She recommends taking extra Vitamin C, extra Vitamin D, and Zinc. As a result, I’m taking two multivitamins each day based on the level of those three she is recommending.
  • She recommends getting some sun for at least 30 minutes a day to boost your immune system. Hopefully, most consumers are in climates that provide access to sunshine and can get outside. We know that is hard for people in apartment buildings or who have disabilities or live alone and don’t have support.
  • Finally, don’t assume you’ve been exposed and have antibodies just because you haven’t gotten sick. Until we have a vaccine, along with robust testing and contact tracing in place, we must continue to social distance.

 

Coronavirus and unsafe working conditions for poultry workers

By Nailah John, Linda Golodner Food Safety and Nutrition Fellow

In these uncertain times of COVID-19, many workers are being exposed to the disease at poultry plants across the United States. Eater notes that many of these workers are Black, Latino, or immigrants earning low wages and working in overcrowded conditions to package the items that end up on the plates of many families across the States.

Let us dive in a little deeper. The Los Angeles Times has highlighted the spike in coronavirus and meat plants across the United States, with hundreds of reported cases in the last week. This is, of course, a concern to the food supply chain and worker safety. The Associated Press has reported that massive meat processing plants have temporarily closed due to workers contracting COVID-19. This raises concerns about shortages of beef, pork, and poultry. At the same time, workers are being exposed and are succumbing to COVID-19.

The New York Times also reported that workers are standing elbow-to-elbow to do the low-wage work of cutting and packing meat. Many have been on the front line of these packing plants while being sick because they cannot afford to stay home and sacrifice paychecks. Some have staged walkouts to protest being insufficiently protected. United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), which has a seat on the National Consumers League’s Board of Directors, has engaged in talks with Cargill, which has agreed to give employees a $2/hour emergency pay increase in addition to a pay raise. The union and Cargill are working on ways to better practice social distancing within the packing plants. Increased sanitization and screening at the plants, and virtual health visits will be expanded for those seeking care health care.

Each day brings new information about COVID-19. When going to the store to purchase meat, let us remember that someone stood in a plant slaughtering and packing it. They are on the frontline risking their lives so that we can eat. UFCW is calling on ALL food employers to step up by developing ways to protect workers and by compensating them commensurate with the risks they are taking to deliver quality products to the grocery stores, restaurants, and family tables of America.

Nation’s pioneering consumer-worker organization demands massive COVID-19 testing production, universal testing

April 23, 2020

Contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242 or Taun Sterling, tauns@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC –The National Consumers League (NCL), the nation’s oldest consumer and worker advocacy organization, is demanding that the federal government put its support behind massive COVID-19 test production and, as quickly as is feasible, put in place a testing protocol for every citizen so that America can get back to work.

“There are calls across the country to reopen businesses; we understand and share that frustration,” said NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg. “However, as we are currently not allowing tests for people who are asymptomatic—and because 25 percent of people who carry the virus don’t show symptoms—doing so would be reckless. It’s a Catch-22. Until everyone is tested, we can’t send symptom-free people back into the world. So the government’s first order of business must include giving America’s labs and drug companies the goal and the means to produce rapid-response testing for every American within the next month.”

NCL has laid out the following recommendations:

Meet the need for testing in clinics and doctors’ offices

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) must oversee the process of improving techniques and reliable, accurate test production. Many labs are working on this, addressing the immediate need for care providers to have enough, high-quality tests.

“The Senate has voted to include $25 billion for the clinical labs that make the tests in the next COVID legislative package” said Greenberg. “That is welcome news because states cannot do this alone; they end up competing against each other for tests and other supplies.”

As Maryland Governor Larry Hogan (R-MD) said this week, “Every governor in America has been pushing and fighting and clawing to get more tests, not only from the federal government, but from every private lab in America and from across the world. It’s nowhere where it needs to be.” Virginia Governor Ralph Northam (D-VA) noted that the President’s claims that the country has enough tests for the virus are “delusional.”

Clearly, quality is paramount. The serious stumbles at such premier institutions as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cannot continue. “The federal government must continue to support and expand the production of quality tests, and at capacity to meet the current needs of care providers,” said Greenberg.

Universal testing

As stated above, though, in order to get people back out to restart the economy, we cannot only test those who show serious symptoms and go to care providers to get tested. We must develop tests that can be self-administered, and in adequate numbers so that each person can test for COVID before leaving the home on any given day.

“Millions of workers have to take drug tests every day to keep their jobs; those tests are rapid-response. Consumers can buy rapid response tests for strep throat and pregnancy,” said Greenberg. “Those are approved FDA products that are tested for accuracy and safety. We must get to a rapid response COVID-19 home test as soon as possible.”

In order to determine who has COVID-19 and should be quarantined, every American must be able to test for the virus on a regular basis. Those who test positive, with or without symptoms, go into quarantine for 14 days, as do the people in that individual’s household. Those who test negative are cleared to go out in the world to get the trains running again. This would call for hundreds of millions of tests to enable on-going testing, as it is the only path forward at this time.

And the technology is not “pie-in-the-sky.” The FDA has already approved one home-test kit, though it requires lab analysis. And BARDA/HHS has funded another company to develop “a rapid antigen and antibody diagnostic to identify current or past SARS-CoV-2 infections in 60 seconds.” We are on the road.

Antibody testing

While it’s not clear how long antibodies create immunity, there is a belief that they at least do so for the short-term. So the next step would be to provide serology testing for people who test negative for COVID-19, using only tests approved by the FDA to ensure quality and accuracy. To date, the FDA has approved only four tests of the many available, but this is an important start.

Those who are determined to have a sufficient level of antibodies should be cleared to go back to work, while still wearing masks and gloves until science has confirmed decisively that antibodies create immunity. If the individuals don’t have antibodies, they would be advised to stay home, but could be cleared to go back to work so long as they test every day before heading out.

Contact tracing

Everyone who tests positive reaches out to everyone they’ve had contact with and those people test for COVID-19. Anyone then testing positive goes into quarantine, and the process repeats.

Use technology to self-surveil

Finally, we need a system for uploading test results each day to our phones – like the bar codes we use to board an airplane – or to carry evidence that we have taken the test, have antibodies to COVID-19, and can work or otherwise go out.  Enforcement would be a new challenge, given our commitment to civil liberties, but one that we can certainly work out.

Longer term: Vaccinate

In a year or more, when a vaccine arrives, 95 percent of Americans will need to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity and widespread protection.

“Our nation has the know-how and manufacturing infrastructure to produce the millions of tests needed to determine whether someone has the virus,” said Greenberg. “But due to lack of leadership at the top, our testing capacity is still, several months after the outbreak, extremely limited. To date only 3.3 million people have been tested, according to the COVID Tracking Project. That’s about 1 percent of the population. That is simply not enough.”

NCL is demanding that the Federal government respond to the current national Coronavirus emergency as President Roosevelt responded to World War II, and challenge Americans to “harness the efficient machinery of America’s manufacturers” to fight the pandemic.

“We need that call to action now, to challenge America’s labs and drug companies with the goal of producing testing for every American within the next month. Federal health care agencies including CDC, National Institutes of Health (NIH), and FDA should be their partners, and this should be a shared cost,” said Greenberg. “In the midst of the worst unemployment numbers ever seen in American history, and with millions of businesses having their existence threatened, we need federal leadership, expertise, and financial support to make this happen, and we need it now.”

###

About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneering consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.

Universal testing: What is the hold-up?

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

During this Covid pandemic, Americans have been incredibly patient and observant of guidelines for social distancing and staying home. But it can’t last forever. Where the heck is the universal testing for Covid-19? We’ve been talking about it for more than two months and yet you can’t get access to Covid-19 testing unless you’re showing symptoms of the virus. If, as experts believe, 25-50 percent of us might be carrying the virus without symptoms, what does that say?

It says we could be spreading the virus without knowing it! And yet we can’t get tested? We need greater accessibility to testing to know where we stand. If everyone could be tested each day to know if we do or don’t have the disease, or be tested for antibodies to Covid-19 to learn that we can fight the disease, we’d be better equipped to know what we’re dealing with and make smart decisions. Such universal testing can get the country back to work, especially at a time when the economy is in even worst shape since the Great Depression with the retail, restaurant, airline, entertainment, film and hotel industries ground to a halt and millions of workers across the economy out of jobs.

And take note: this kind of testing is possible because testing does not need to require a site visit. A study funded by UnitedHealth Group shows people can self-administer a diagnostic test with a much smaller swab, a process that should save potentially thousands of clinicians from being exposed to the virus while at the same time making the testing simpler. The study, which used data from 500 OptumCare patients, comes amid a parade of diagnostic test approvals for Coronavirus following weeks of criticism of the Trump administration and federal agencies for the lack of testing.

On March 24, the “White House Coronavirus Task Force reported in a briefing that “self-swabbing” options were going to be available that week, so the study supports what the federal government is pursuing.” That’s almost a month ago – so where are they?

What’s worse is that the United States is considered well behind other countries when it comes to the availability of testing generally. Why can’t we figure out this solution?

NCL friend and brilliant inventor of the SawStop, a safe table saw, Steve Gass, came up with a novel approach to employ universal testing that would get most of us back to work. His proposal is below. I’ll end with it, because it says it all:

A cure for the coronavirus pandemic already exists. Contrary to our expectation that cures manifest exclusively as biological agents – medicine for the sick or vaccines for the healthy – the cure for this outbreak is technological. From the Oval Office to Kansas kitchens we’re already talking about it, even while failing to recognize its true potential. Those elusive Covid-19 tests, if utilized daily, by every American, have the power to save our lives and our economy within the month.

To date, the U.S. has only employed testing reactively — to diagnosis a disease after symptoms indicate probable infection — which wins us no real advantage when epidemiological evidence indicates up to 40 percent of transmissions occur covertly, days before symptoms appear, and CDC director Dr. Robert Redfield estimates that 25 percent of carriers (and spreaders) may never manifest symptoms at all. We can continue to hide out at home indefinitely, banking on a vaccine in 12-18 months, but public health expert Dr. David Katz calls that a recipe for “ineffectively fighting the contagion even as we are causing economic collapse.”

Instead, we must deploy tests offensively. They must become our mass-produced instruments of war.

Here’s the plan of attack: one month from today, each of us is tested daily for Covid-19, obtaining immediate results. If positive, you isolate at home and instantaneously eliminate the virus’s prime advantage: its ability to stealthily propagate from “people out there shedding the virus who don’t know that they’re infected,” according to infectious diseases expert Dr. Jeffery Shaman. Meanwhile, the healthy among us freely move back out into our communities, flashing our daily health certificates like boarding passes to gain admittance to workplaces, schools, and stores, certain we won’t harm or be harmed by the people with whom we interact. We’ll have immediately shifted, as economists Dr. Paul Romer and Dr. Alan M. Garber insist we must, to a “targeted approach that limits the spread of the virus but still lets most people go back to work.” The very first day we implement universal daily testing and selective isolation commerce resumes, the viral transmission rate plummets, and the virus exponentially decays. The crisis ends.

The challenge in this crisis of scarcity, when too few can access masks let alone diagnostic devices, is to build enough testing units, now, so that all 330 million Americans can be tested daily. This will require at least 1 million community-based machines adapted for parallel processing of multiple tests simultaneously. If we begin tomorrow and labor 24 hours per day it will take just under 12 days to produce and deploy a million machines at a production rate of one unit every second. That’s not just daunting. It’s mind-boggling.

But it’s not impossible.

In May of 1940 the Greatest Generation listened incredulously as President Roosevelt challenged them to “harness the efficient machinery of America’s manufacturers” to produce 50,000 combat aircraft in 12 months to confront the “approaching storm” of a global war – a goal exceeding the total of all planes built in the U.S. since the Wright brothers’ initial 1903 flight. No one believed an 18-ton plane with 450,000 parts and 360,000 rivets in 550 different sizes could be mass produced, let alone efficiently. But our repurposed auto factories did just that, with Ford Motor Co. churning out one bomber per hour at peak production to secure our safety and win the war.

Our nation still has the know-how, the manufacturing infrastructure, and the industrial resources to save ourselves again by building and deploying a million Covid-19 testing units by the end of the month if we make it our highest national priority starting today. We have men and women yearning to go back to work and we must employ them to optimize established supply chains, man assembly lines, and reinvigorate distribution channels. No single state’s factories can meet the one-unit-per-second output required, but pooled national resources can. The cost and effort will be substantial, certainly, but pale in comparison to the misery wreaked if we let a quarter million Americans die instead.

Make no mistake: World War III is upon us. We must once again wake the sleeping giant, mustering America’s industrial might to save ourselves and the whole world with us by rallying resources to test each of us, over and over again, as if our livelihoods and lives depend on it.

Because they do.

—–

Stephen Gass, PhD, J.D., is a physicist, a patent attorney, and the retired President and founder of SawStop, LLC, the nation’s foremost supplier of premium table saws and the world leader in table saw safety. He is the principal inventor on over 100 patents covering electrical and mechanical innovations in power tools.

Safe takeout options under coronavirus

By Nailah John, Linda Golodner Food Safety and Nutrition Fellow

The way we get food now has totally changed due to the Covid-19 virus. Most us around the nation no longer go to our favorite bar or restaurant or stop at the local coffee shop for a bite to eat or to socialize and have a drink. The mandatory closure shutdown of restaurants with the exception of takeout or delivery is our only option of enjoying a meal not cooked at home. Beyond that, we may ask the questions: first is it safe? Second: is it ethical to potentially expose a delivery worker to what we are all trying to avoid the risk of Covid-19?

The answer to the first question is yes, with some caveats. Currently food is not associated with the transmission of Covid-19, according to the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration. However, Vox reports that there is growing evidence of fecal/oral transmission, which means you can ingest the virus shed in feces through inadequate handwashing or contaminated food and water. Therefore, handlers of food who carry the virus can spread the virus to food items. In theory, all restaurants have to follow food safety rules, and there are extra measures that have been put in place due to Covid-19. However, we have seen Chipotle and other restaurants spread infections by poor food handling.

The second question is complicated, but here are some thoughts. Currently delivery workers are in the middle of a pandemic but still have to work to support their families and pay bills. Eater suggests that if customers forego take-out food, delivery workers and restaurants struggling to provide during the crisis could be put out of business.

We recommend ordering take-away food from your favorite restaurants and, even better, support them by buying gift cards for post-pandemic future meals when restaurants re-open.

Your first option is to is use the in-house restaurant delivery option, since third-party apps take commission fees, which reduce the profit for restaurants. Here are some apps that are taking the necessary measures in protecting their workers and helping out the restaurant industry.

  • UberEats is working to provide drivers with disinfectant. With limited supplies they are working with suppliers to source as much as possible. Any delivery worker who is diagnosed with Covid-19 or is individually asked to self-isolate by a public health authority will receive financial assistance for up to 14 days. UberEats customers have the option to choose how they would like their orders delivered, including selecting “leave at door” during checkout. UberEats has also waived the delivery fee for more than 100,000 independent restaurants across the USA and Canada.
  • Postmates launched the Postmates Fleet Relief Fund to help fleet workers cover medical expenses related to Covid-19, regardless of diagnosis. Active members of the fleet who receive a positive diagnosis for Covid-19 or who are required to self-quarantine based on infection may be eligible to access additional funds to offset up to two weeks of lost income while they recover. Postmates has also introduced non-contact deliveries, which allows distancing between customers and delivery workers. Postmates will also waive commission fees for businesses in the San Francisco Bay area.
  • DoorDash (also owns Caviar) is providing financial assistance to eligible delivery workers and Caviar couriers who are diagnosed with Covid-19 or quarantined. DoorDash is consulting with public health officials and working with restaurants to enhance their food preparation protocols. The default delivery method has been changed to the non-contact option to minimize contact between the delivery workers and customers. All new and existing DoorDash partner restaurants will receive commission relief and marketing support.
  • Grubhub is offering a one-time pay adjustment to help with medical expenses and loss of income if a driver tests positive with Covid-19. Grubhub will also support drivers who have been ordered by a public health authority or licensed medical personnel to self-isolate due to a risk of spreading Covid-19, and if a driver’s account has been individually restricted as a result of information provided to Grubhub by a public health authority regarding the risk of spreading Covid-19. Grubhub has also introduced contact-free delivery, which allows customers to request having their delivery left at the front door to avoid less contact.
  • On March 9, Instacart introduced a new sick pay policy that all part-time employees including in-store shoppers now have access to sick pay, an accrued benefit that can be used as paid time off for absences from work due to illness or injury. This pay accrual will be backdated from the start of the year for all in-store shoppers. Instacart is also offering 14 days of pay for any part-time employee and full-service shoppers who are diagnosed with Covid-19 or are under mandatory isolation or quarantine directed by local, state, or public health authority. This assist will be available for 30 days. Instacart has also introduced “Leave at my Door Delivery” to all customers across North America.

It is important that we minimize contact with others since daily things are changing in relation to Covid-19. However, delivery services are really stepping up to keep customers safe and, for that, we should all be grateful. Remember to support your local restaurants by requesting non-contact delivery!

 

Ten years later: ACA consistently proves to be America’s safety net, especially in times of crisis

Nissa Shaffi

By Nissa Shaffi, NCL Associate Director of Health Policy

Ten years ago, the United States Congress adopted the Affordable Care Act (ACA), after many decades of unsuccessful attempts at achieving universal health care by advocates. For the first time, the ACA provided coverage options for every American across the economic spectrum, expanding Medicaid in many states and offering the self-employed access to insurance on the open exchange. For NCL, the ACA is the safety net program the founders of the League sought to see put in place from the organization’s inception at the turn of the 20th Century.

Today with the rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus across America, patients’ access to health care is more critical than ever. Yet despite the clear need we all have for health care coverage, over the past decade, the ACA has been under attack by conservatives in Congress and survived multiple attempts at repeal. The latest came from the Texas v. United States case – and now it threatens to render the entire ACA unconstitutional, following the repeal of the ACA’s  individual mandate provision. Why conservatives wish to deprive people of health care escapes us at the NCL. In fact, the ACA has transformed the way Americans interact with the healthcare system.

Throughout its short life, the ACA has cemented into law numerous consumer health protections and has expanded access to health coverage for over 20 million people. 37 states have expanded Medicaid, the health care program for low-income Americans. Prioritizing preventive care, the ACA mandated that health insurance providers  cover preventive services for all adults, women, and children – free of cost to the patient. The ACA also made it unlawful for insurers to deny or reduce benefits based on preexisting conditions. These include diagnostic included screenings, vaccines, birth control, and access to certain medications. For the first time, those 26 under could retain their health coverage through their parents’ insurance plans.

Research has shown that ACA Medicaid Expansion has improved access to care, financial security, health outcomes, economic mobility, and have reduced uncompensated care. Despite the progress made by the ACA, there are still 29 million uninsured people in the United States. If the ACA is repealed, 25 million Americans may lose their coverage overnight, without the promise of its replacement. Perhaps the COVID-19 outbreak will change the calculus and bring home how devasting it would be to repeal the ACA. Insurers would no longer be obligated to provide protections offered by the law, allowing plans to deny coverage indiscriminately, leaving millions of families along with low-income and high-risk individuals without care.

The true impact of the ACA will be even more apparent as the national continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic in the coming months. COVID-19 has upended the economy and affected virtually every industry and has caused unemployment to soar. On March 21, unemployment claims reached a record 3.3 million – the highest level of jobless claims in history (the Great Depression saw levels of 24 percent unemployment at its peak but there was no unemployment insurance safety net during the 1930s and thus no jobless claims, just breadlines). Economist Heidi Shierholz of the Economic Policy Institute estimates that by summer, approximately “14 million workers will lose their jobs due to the coronavirus shock.”

A report by FAIR Health estimates that potential treatment for COVID-19, resulting in an average six-day hospital stay, could total to a whopping $73,300 for the uninsured: a devastating prospect in the middle of a global financial collapse. With the increased loss of employer-based health insurance, the ACA proves to be more crucial than ever as individuals and families may turn to the health insurance marketplace to secure coverage. NCL is backing legislation – and the health plans support this too – to move workers losing jobs and health insurance to the COBRA program with heavy subsidies so they can ride out the pandemic –  COVID-19 has exposed so many severe deficiencies in the healthcare system. To learn more about statewide efforts to mitigate the impact of COVID-19, click here.

While the fate of the ACA remains uncertain, it is still the law of the land. If you are concerned about loss of coverage during this time, several state-run health plans have enacted Special Enrollment Periods (SEPs) in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, click here to learn more. NCL believes that healthcare is a right and that protections offered by the ACA make this country a far stronger, more robust nation. We will continue to work diligently to protect universal access affordable and reliable health coverage. To learn more about what’s at stake and how you can help prevent the potential repeal of the ACA, click here.

Fighting for crucial consumer, worker protections and fair outcomes in coronavirus environment

March 27, 2020: A message to our online community about how we are working hard to ensure crucial protections for consumers and workers in this time of uncertainty.

Sally Greenberg discussing CBD on Capitol Hill

Coronavirus update: Fighting for crucial protections, fair outcomes

A message to our online community

In this critical time, as our nation is gripped by the COVID-19 virus, we want you to know that we remain 100% committed to doing everything we can to help stop the spread of the virus and to fight for consumer and worker protections in this rapidly changing economy.

Although we are now doing so remotely in order to maintain our safety and the safety of our loved ones, NCL staff continues to work behind the scenes to ensure that the interests of consumers and workers are not forgotten in the rush to pass legislation and make executive branch decisions.

Below we’ve highlighted what’s happening and hope that you agree that our work – and your support – are more important than ever.

Pushing Congress to protect passengers in COVID-19 relief legislation

The pandemic has reduced passenger air traffic to a trickle, putting the airlines in deep economic distress. A strong, well-functioning, and safe airline industry is essential to our country. That said, NCL does not believe that giving a blank check to the industry is in consumers’ best interest. That’s why NCL led a coalition of consumer and air passenger advocates to call on Congress to include strong passenger protections in the COVID-19 relief bill. We will continue to advocate for reforms to the airline’s business practices, like excessive fees and shrinking seats, in the weeks and months to come.

Fighting COVID-19 scams

We are actively reaching out to consumers to educate them about how to spot coronavirus-related scams. We are already seeing reports of scammers using this moment of national emergency to sell bogus coronavirus “cures” and target seniors with phony investment scams. That’s why we issued a statement applauding Attorney General William Barr’s order to all U.S. Attorneys to ramp up efforts to shut down COVID-19 scams and are continuing to alert our readers about emerging trends.

We are also using our Consumers for Safe CBD platform (4safeCBD.org) to highlight false product claims made by unscrupulous CBD manufacturers who are using the crisis to promote their products .

Healthcare in the new environment

In response to a request for help from FDA, NCL is supporting the agency’s efforts to expose bogus coronavirus tests, treatments, and cures. In addition, we signed onto a letter as part of our adult vaccine coalition to ask for ZERO CO-PAYs for all Medicare Part D vaccines, which could include COVID-19 vaccines when they become available. With safety as a paramount concern, NCL is supporting the American Nurses Association’s call to action to increase Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for nurses.

Crucial worker protections

NCL persists in its fight for worker protections and joined a letter opposing the exclusion of immigrants from the omnibus relief package. We also signed onto an effort to ensure the Postal Service can remain fully functional during this crisis and beyond. The USPS is predicting that an economic recession could pose a “serious threat to the near-term viability of the Postal Service,” and has asked Congress to give USPS more than $7 billion each year for the next two years.

NCL joined allies at farmworker organizations in expressing concerns related to exposure of the largely uninsured, financially fragile farmworker community to COVID-19 and asking political leaders to be mindful of the unique concerns, considerations, and risks confronting farmworkers.

Looking ahead

NCL remains actively engaged in working to properly ensure that relief packages address the interests of consumers and workers. We are very pleased that Congress will be providing cash assistance to our most vulnerable, and we continue to push for salary and benefit protections, particularly for those workers in the most seriously impacted industries.

In the coming days, stay tuned for news of our Trumpeter Awards Dinner, which we will host in October. We will be sending out a Save the Date and announcing our award recipients shortly.

Best wishes for staying safe and healthy, from all of us at NCL.

Sally Greenberg
Executive Director
National Consumers League

NCL: #NeverMoreRelevant

Coronavirus and food safety: What you need to know

By Nailah John, Linda Golodner Food Safety and Nutrition Fellow

Perhaps some of the only good news about the Covid-19 is that food is not the primary way that the virus can be spread. According to Harvard Medical School, “We are still learning about transmission of COVID-19. It’s not clear if this is possible, but if so, it would be more likely to be the exception than the rule. That said, COVID-19 and other coronaviruses have been detected in the stool of certain patients, so we currently cannot rule out the possibility of occasional transmission from infected food handlers. The virus would likely be killed by cooking.”

Great, but not all foods can or are intended to be cooked – think of deli meats, cole slaw, potato salad, cheeses, salads, fresh fruits and vegetables, breads, pastry, butter, cream cheese; so if the mainstay of a deli or restaurant is “fresh” foods, spreading the virus is a real threat if the right precautions are taken.

And COVID-19 has made us all keenly aware of the importance of wiping surfaces and washing hands frequently, especially when handling food. We also know that COVID-19 can’t typically be transmitted from food or from food packaging. But we do have suggestions.

Food safety measures one should take:

  • Wash your hands the right way: Use plain soap and water- skip the antibacterial soap, scrub the backs of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails for about 20 seconds, if you need to time yourself sing the chorus of your favorite song twice. Rinse your hands, and then dry them with a clean towel. Remember to wash your hands often especially since COVID-19 lives on surfaces for an extended period.
  • Wash surfaces and utensils after each use: Wash cutting boards, utensils countertops with hot, soapy water, especially if you had raw meat, seafood, poultry or eggs on these surfaces. Don’t cross contaminate!
  • Remember it is very important to wash your dishcloths in a hot cycle of your washing machine, sometimes we forget this key element to food safety.
  • Learn more from FoodSafety.gov.

Food safety is paramount in our day-to-day lives – it’s so important that we take the necessary steps not to expose ourselves – whether eating in a restaurant or cooking at home, to COVID-19. Remember eat healthy, nutritious foods and take all the steps needed in preparing a safe meal for you and your family.