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Utah County Attorney says two businesses did not force COVID positive employees to work

FILE -- Utah County Attorney David Leavitt speaks during a press conference at the Utah County Commission Chambers in Provo Wednesday January 23, 2019.

UTAH COUNTY –Utah County makes an about face regarding two businesses that were accused of forcing employees to work while they were sick with COVID-19.  Elected officials are now saying those reports were not correct.

County Attorney David Leavitt says it became international news when two companies were accused of forcing their employees to work after they were confirmed to have the virus.  Health officials accused the business owners of not following best public health practices which led to 68 people becoming infected. 

“In the first week of May, the Utah County Health Department reported to the Utah County Commission that nearly half of the employees of a Utah County business had tested positive for COVID-19 after the business instructed their employees to not follow the quarantine guidelines and that they required staff who had tested positive to report to work…

“Attempting to protect the public by warning other businesses not to engage in such conduct, the county commissioners issued a statement that repeated the Health Department assertion,” Leavitt told media on Tuesday.

When health workers find someone who has a confirmed case of coronavirus, it’s mandatory they conduct contact tracing to find out who that person may have been exposed to.  It also helps them determine possible leads to how that person was infected in the first place.

Leavitt says, “People who had tested positive made certain statements that led health department officials to believe that people were being forced to work.”

However, in recent days, officials with the health department learned the initial statements were inaccurate.

“The County Commission informed the public. All of this was done with the honest, sincere desire to warn and protect the public and with the belief that it was true,” Leavitt says.  “In fact, there were not two businesses who were forcing employees to work.  That was information that was not right.  It was communicated out of an abundance of caution from the health department to the county commission, and as we’ve gotten deeper into the issue we have learned that the assertions weren’t true.”

Since the accusations came out, local media and many people on social have demanded the businesses be named.  One woman even filed a lawsuit against her former employers, saying she was “recklessly” exposed to COVID-19.  Leavitt says county officials were called out for not releasing the names of the companies in question.  However, he says the allegations against the employers had not been substantiated, which is one reason they kept the names of the companies private.

Why did the commission announce that business owners forced employers to work if those claims hadn’t been verified?  Leavitt says one reason is they wanted to deter other employers from engaging in that kind of activity.

“The health department should not be vilified, here.  The health department is doing their very, very best under very different, very difficult circumstances,” he says.

Leavitt did not dispute findings from the health department showing 68 people were infected in hot spots around two Utah County businesses, but he was unsure if the businesses violated any COVID-19 guidelines.