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Business leaders accuse PHMDC of “scapegoating” in latest update

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Some Dane County business leaders are upset following guidance put out by health officials that business leaders say unfairly singles out workplaces as a source of COVID-19 infections.

Thursday, Public Health Madison and Dane County officials advised employers to reconsider workplace safety and encouraged everyone who can work from home to do so.

The Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce says it had already been encouraging businesses to have employees work from home whenever possible. Furthermore, the chamber's president said the latest data didn't support what he felt was implied -- that workplaces were a major source of COVID-19 spread.

"Don't scapegoat businesses as a source of infection when the data doesn't bear out," said Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce President Zach Brandon.

Looking at Dane County's COVID-19 snapshot released Thursday, 513 cases (13 percent) between October 20 and November 2 were from "clusters." Of those cases, 69 (again, 13 percent) were from private workplaces.

That's the second highest category of cases in the snapshot, next to assisted living facilites.

But still, it's 13 percent -- which means 87 percent of cases from clusters were not from private workplaces.

Brandon says even if private workplaces are lumped together with public-facing workplaces, bars, restaurants and others -- it's still far from the majority of new cases, since "clusters" as a total are only 13 percent of all cases during that time frame.

"Why are we focusing in to say, 'This is the hotspot,' when we know that the vast majority of cases on the rise are occurring outside of clusters?" he said.

Brandon's main concern was with the message the guidance was sending to people. He thought it undermined the work workplaces were doing to stay safe.

Public health officials say that wasn't the case.

They strongly objected to accusations of using workplaces as a "scapegoat" and said the point of their guidance was not to call workplaces the driving cause of cases, but rather to point out that we all need to do our parts where we can.

"It really wasn't meant to pick on businesses," said Bonnie Koenig, business liaison with the PHMDC COVID Emergency Response. "It was really to call businesses in, because they've been leaders from the beginning, having all the policies and procedures to prevent COVID-19 spread among employees."

Doctors continue to emphasize that any time you have an interaction with people you don't live with, you run the risk of catching COVID-19. They say cutting back significantly on those interactions in all instances -- especially now that the spread is so bad -- is the only way we get better.

"The biggest thing that we're still seeing is exposures outside of work, and even small gatherings really perpetuating," said Dr. Nasia Safdar, UW Health's Medical Director for Infection Prevention. "But certainly this is the time to really tackle this from all angles. And so, even if workplace exposures aren't the primary driver, they certainly are a driver and should be tackled."

Andrew Merica

Reporter/Producer, 27 News

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