Virginia business advocates caution against permanent coronavirus regulations considered by state

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The Virginia business community is cautioning the state about the economic effect of making its COVID-19-era regulations permanent, which will be discussed Wednesday during a Safety and Health Codes Board meeting.

Virginia became the first state to add temporary COVID-19-related regulations to the books about two-and-a-half months ago, which included face mask, social distancing, training and record-keeping requirements. Business advocates have said the regulations have made it more difficult to operate in conjunction with the other economic restrictions imposed on businesses during the pandemic.

The Virginia Business Coalition, which represents 33 business groups, opposes permanent standards. Nicole Riley, the Virginia State Director for the National Federation of Independent Business, which is a member of the coalition, said the pandemic is ever-changing and permanent requirements remove flexibility.

“As scientists study COVID-19, the information is ever-changing on how it spreads and how best to protect people, but this state workplace regulation is fixed in time so it can easily become outdated,” Riley said in a statement. “When it was developed, businesses were iced out of the process and that lack of input resulted in a one-size-fits-all regulation that is confusing and doesn’t work for a wide variety of small businesses with many types of workplaces.”

Another coalition member, the Virginia Retail Federation, had similar concerns.

“The workplace standard goes beyond requiring infection control measures to dictating private workplace policies like flexible schedules, sick leave, travel and more, which is extreme overreach,” Jodi Roth, the director of government relations for the federation, said in a statement. “At a time when mom and pop shops and retailers are struggling, all these costly and inflexible mandates add to their burden. Businesses have a vested interest in keeping employees and customers safe and will do what it takes anyway.”

Robert Melvin, the director of government affairs at the Virginia Restaurant, Lodging & Travel Association, told The Center Square these restrictions were meant to be a temporary response to a state of emergency declared in response to COVID-19, not a permanent mandate on businesses. He said vaccines and more treatment opportunities will become available and the regulations should end when the state of emergency declaration ends.

Melvin said the regulations have been burdensome for businesses and some do not have the money to continue operating if they stay in place. He said this will exacerbate the issues these businesses already are facing.

“It’s just a bad, bad idea,” Melvin said.

The Center Square reached out to the Commonwealth of Virginia Joint Information Center for the COVID-19 pandemic, but did not receive a response at the time of publication.

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