JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — As more local municipalities have enacted stay at home orders, the Missouri Public Service Commission (PSC) has requested utility workers be deemed “essential” and allowed to continue their work.
At least 838 Missourians have tested positive for coronavirus thus far, and 10 people have died. The state is under a social distancing order but not a statewide stay at home mandate. Several cities and counties, however, have instructed citizens to remain at home.
The PSC sent a letter to local officials Friday asking them to recognize utility workers as essential, noting they are “indispensable to ensuring Missouri’s citizens receive safe and reliable access to water, heat, power, and information.”
“Workers in the telecommunications, electricity, natural gas, water, and sewer sectors are performing crucial and necessary work on critical infrastructure,” the letter said. “It is important that they continue working so Missourians can receive essential utility services during this pandemic.”
“Even though utility crews are trying to minimize their contact with the general public, sometimes they must perform work in the field. It is for this reason the Commission urges you, whether you have already issued a shelter-in-place order or may in the future, to designate utility workers as essential.”
In an email to customers last week, Ameren Missouri President Marty Lyons noted employees are taking safety precautions while working in the field. He asked the public to maintain a distance of at least 6 feet from workers.
Many Missouri utility companies are offering help to residential and business customers during the pandemic and countless people have lost their jobs or businesses have shuttered. Additionally, several utilities have discontinued shutoffs during this time.
On Wednesday, the PSC held its first virtual-only agenda meeting — with commissioners calling in. The Governor Office Building, where meetings are held and typically live-streamed, has been closed during the COVID-19 crisis.
The Missouri AFL-CIO has asked Gov. Mike Parson to designate all workers employed by what is deemed an essential business be given the status of first responders “for the purposes of all safety precautions.” And UFCW Local 655 has also pushed the governor to designate grocery and retail workers as first responders, something Missouri’s chief executive has declined to do.
The virus has been named “SARS-CoV-2” while the disease is called “coronavirus disease 2019,” or “COVID-19.” It can cause severe respiratory illnesses with symptoms such as fever, cough, and shortness of breath, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has warned.
There have been more than 103,000 confirmed cases in the U.S., and 1,668 deaths, according to the CDC.
Kaitlyn Schallhorn is the editor of The Missouri Times. She joined the newspaper in early 2019 after working as a reporter for Fox News in New York City.
Throughout her career, Kaitlyn has covered political campaigns across the U.S., including the 2016 presidential election, and humanitarian aid efforts in Africa and the Middle East.
She is a native of Missouri who studied journalism at Winthrop University in South Carolina. She is also an alumna of the National Journalism Center in Washington, D.C.
Contact Kaitlyn at firstname.lastname@example.org.