California's employee safety watchdog, Cal/OSHA, has issued fines to multiple employers in the Bay Area over violations of COVID safety guidelines that put employees' health at risk.
Cal/OSHA announced on Wednesday that the Santa Rosa Police Department has been slapped with a fine — the largest of any Bay Area employer in this round — stemming from violations during the start of the pandemic that led to the infection and death of Police Detective Marylou Hernandez Armer. In its citation, Cal/OSHA reveals for the first time that Armer, a 20-year veteran of the SRPD, was exposed at work to a colleague with known symptoms of COVID-19.
"Workers in health care and public safety are at a higher risk of exposure to COVID-19 and employers must put in place measures to protect these essential personnel,” said Cal/OSHA Chief Doug Parker in a statement Wednesday.
Armer died at the age of 43 after experiencing symptoms over two weeks and being denied a COVID test by her healthcare provider, Kaiser Vallejo, as the Press Democrat reported. When she was finally admitted to the hospital on March 23, she had dangerously low blood oxygen levels, and she died eight days later. She was the first police officer in California to die in the pandemic.
Armer's death in late March came as at least five officers in the SRPD had tested positive — and Cal/OSHA now says that the department did not take adequate precautions to curb the spread of an airborne pathogen. Also, in March and April, sick employees of the department were not told to stay home despite orders from the county health department to do so.
"The Santa Rosa Police Department failed to implement required screening and referral procedures for persons exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms during the month of March 2020, and failed to report to Cal/OSHA multiple serious illnesses suffered by employees who contracted COVID-19," Cal/OSHA said in a statement.
As KTVU reports, other Bay Area organizations fined by the state include the CPMC Davies campus in San Francisco, where employees and security guards were observed not always wearing respiratory protection; the Gateway Care and Rehabilitation Center in Hayward where over 50 residents became infected with COVID and six died; and the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center where inspectors say staff were not properly trained in safety procedures, and "failed to provide clear communication to their health care workers who were deployed to two skilled nursing facilities."
Canyon Springs Post Acute healthcare center and the Ridge Post-Acute healthcare center, both in San Jose, were also cited and fined. Penalties ranged in dollar amount from $2,060 to $32,000.
Photo of Marylou Armer courtesy of her family