BISMARCK — Democratic-NPL candidates called on Gov. Doug Burgum Wednesday, Sept. 9, to pay workers' compensation to all public school staff, such as cafeteria workers, janitors and bus drivers, if they contract COVID-19.

The party candidates said at a Wednesday press conference that many public school teachers are under contracts that protect them if they become ill from COVID-19, but no such COVID-19 protection exists for staff members who work in a public school.

"Today we're asking that the remainder of school staff is considered equally important and that assurances are made to provide for them also a safety net," said Naomi Muscha, Democratic-NPL District 24 House candidate.

If a school physically closes, staff members would not be required to report to work, meaning they would lose their income, Muscha said.

Burgum's previous workers' compensation executive orders included first responders, health care workers, funeral directors, among other occupations.

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Party candidates also urged Burgum to expand to the current COVID-19 workers' compensation executive orders to presume that a person contracted COVID-19 on the job, because it can be difficult to determine where someone got it, especially since community spread is the main source of infection for North Dakota.

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In April, Minnesota enacted a workers' compensation law that states an employee is "presumed to have contracted a workers’ compensation occupational disease if they become ill with COVID-19." The party is asking for a similar presumption for North Dakota.

Burgum's office did not immediately respond to comment about whether these executive order expansions were under consideration.

Last week, Burgum signed an executive order that suspended a North Dakota Century Code stipulation that teachers could only work consecutively in a classroom for 10 days. The order now allows substitute teachers "to remain in a classroom without limitation," which will allow more licensed teachers to be available if needed.

COVID-19 cases have continued to increase throughout the state, and North Dakota has one of the highest infection rates in the United States, with about 18% of tests last week coming back positive, according to Reuters.

"North Dakota needs strong policy that protects all K-12 and higher education educators and support staff," said Kari Breker, District 16 Senate candidate. "What we're asking is for the governor to add this tool so that schools and communities have a greater number of options and strong support so that teachers, support staff ... students and families can stay safe."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Michelle Griffith, a Report for America corps member, at mgriffith@forumcomm.com