Some Town Employees Upset About Lack Of COVID-19 Precautions

Some Town Employees Upset About Lack Of COVID-19 Precautions

Some Town Employees Upset About Lack Of COVID-19 Precautions Featured

By / Local News / Wednesday, 08 July 2020 16:57

By WILLARD KILLOUGH III
Managing Editor

CAROLINA BEACH - At least six employees working for the Town of Carolina Beach had tested positive for the COVID-19 virus in recent weeks. The Town will not tell other employees who has tested positive, but just as the virus has spread, word has spread among various departments and employees are fearful for their wellbeing and the health of fellow coworkers.

On Wednesday July 1st, at 4:PM, Town Manager Bruce Oakley sent an e-mail to Town employees.

Oakley wrote:

Dear Town of Carolina Beach Employees: As we are all aware, the COVID-19 cases in New Hanover County continue to rise.  Carolina Beach is no exception, and there have been employees who have tested positive for COVID-19 in the past month.
While I can’t discuss specific personnel matters, I can assure you that the New Hanover County Health Department has been notified and the Town is following all the directives issued by the Department of Health and Human Services and the CDC.
Employees who needed to be notified of possible exposure have been notified and are following those guidelines.
The Town is following all of the guidance and directives of the CDC.  These safeguards include requiring social distancing when conducting business, flexible work schedules,  issuing cloth face masks to all employees, encouraging hand washing and an increase in the daily sanitation of high touch areas.
The Town has not been advised of any additional requirements regarding quarantining any staff members.
Please feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions concerning this important matter.

An employee speaking off-the-record explained they felt cleaning of Town Hall offices was lacking with only a maintenance person occasionally wiping door knobs and cleaning other areas.

Another employee said on Monday June 29th, they were provided with a face mask in a small brown paper bag.

According to several employees, the Town has not offered COVID-19 testing to employees. One employee in the Operations Department tested positive for COVID-19 and quarantined for two weeks and purportedly returned to work on Monday July 6th.

Another employee stated off-the-record, "None of the employees were alerted to anything until today [Wednesday, July 1st]" after receiving an email from the Town Manager. They also said that many employees felt cleaning routines were not adequate.

Another employee said off-the-record they understood that State personnel laws and Federal HIPPA  law (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) restricts an employer's ability to release health related information to other employees or the pubic, but felt the Town should at least notify employees of the number of COVID-19 cases within each department without specifically naming the individuals in order to futher support the need for phone communications rather than in person contact.

On Tuesday June 30th, Holly Brooks - Director of Human Resources - sent out an email marked confidential and stated, "All, attached please find the Daily Wellness Screening policy I have created. The policy will require employees to take their temperature daily before entering the workplace.  Following the successful temperature screening the employee will complete a Daily Wellness Screening form. The employee will record on the Daily Wellness Screening form whether or not they are exhibiting any symptoms of COVID19, and whether anyone in their household has become ill."

For the purpose of that policy, an employee with a bodily temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher as recorded on a hand-held infrared thermometer will be considered to have a fever.

Brooks explained, "Critical Infrastructure Workers - There are 16 critical infrastructure sectors whose assets, systems, and networks, whether physical or virtual, are considered so vital to the United States that their incapacitation or destruction would have a debilitating effect on security, national economic security, national public health or safety, or any combination thereof. See Presidential Policy Directive 21 (PPD-21): PPD-21 identifies 16 critical infrastructure sectors. At the Town, these workers include sworn Police and Fire suppression personnel, all Water and Wastewater personnel, Environmental/Facilities and most other local government personnel."

She explained, "Employees will maintain their personal screening form all week, and turn the form into Human Resources at the end of each week. Supervisors can gather the forms of their particular team and hold in them a confidential location, and pass forms out each morning to be completed prior to the start of the work day. If an employee responds “yes” to certain questions on the form, they must report the information to their Supervisor.  At that point the Supervisor will reach out to Human Resources for further direction and guidance."

She explained , "The CDC has issued guidance that allows for “Critical Infrastructure Workers” to continue to work following an exposure to a person with suspected or confirmed COVID19" and, "Basically, we are all “Critical Infrastructure Workers”, therefore, we can continue to work following an exposure to COVID19, until we ourselves develop symptoms.  When COVID first came about this spring, workers who were exposed were immediately sent home for 14-days, however, that is no longer possible for Critical Infrastructure Workers.  However, if an employee has underlying health conditions or is advised by their personal health care provider, our Corporate Health Partner or the Department Of Health and Human Services to quarantine for 14-days due to an exposure, then we will most certainly follow that professional guidance and place the employee out on Emergency Paid Sick Leave."

Brooks explained, "I have also attached the Town’s Exposure Control Policy.  This policy is also in effect, and describes the steps the Town must take if an employee has an on-the-job exposure to COVID.  Police and Fire also have their own General Orders that should dove-tail into the Exposure Control Policy and now this Daily Screening Process.  Chief Spivey and Chief Griffin, please review this information especially closely to ensure all polices are working together. Please review the policy and the daily wellness screening form and let me know if you have any questions, or if you see anything that needs to be changed."

Town Manager Bruce Oakley responded to questions from the Gazette on July 7th:

1. Is the Town providing face masks to employees and if so, when did the Town begin providing the masks?

Oakley explained, "We have made masks available to employees since early April and encouraged their use. We started mandating their use after the Governor did the same."

2. How many employees have tested positive for COVID-19 and are they currently required to work prior to showing symptoms? (Full time and part-time: i.e. lifeguards)

Oakley explained, "Since it touches on personnel issues, we have not disclosed if and how many employees have tested. We will notify New Hanover County Health Department of any positive tests and follow their directions on notification and tracing. We will also follow all NC Health and Human Services requirements. We will require anyone who tests positive to have a negative test or get clearance from a Doctor."

3. What is the Town's policy on telecommuting/remote offices for employees including those with underlying health conditions?

Oakley explained, "We expanded our telecommuting policy during the pandemic which allows more flexibility for working from home for those with underlying conditions and/or child care issues. For any employee with underlying condition that could not do their job from home, an expanded workers comp was available."

4. Is there a plan in place if a high number of employees test positive for COVID-19 and a number of them become seriously ill? (In terms of the level of service for all departments, but especially police, fire and public works).

Oakley explained, "Police and Fire have taken steps to try and prevent widespread infections. If there was a widespread infection in either department or in our Public Works/Utilities Department would request assistance from other local agencies."

5. Is the Town paying for COVID-19 tests if employees request a test?

Oakley explained, "If there is a work related exposure or suspicion of one, testing is covered by our worker’s comp plan."

6. What cleaning protocols have the Town adopted within Town Hall and other Town facilities?

Oakley explained, "We have increased our cleaning and sanitizing of our facilities, especially the public areas. We are also encouraging employees to take additional responsibility in cleaning their personal spaces."

In Kure Beach, Emergency Manager and Councilman David Heglar explained last week that employees temperatures are taken at every building entrance and they require face masks and social distancing.

Hand sanitizer is available in all departments. Department heads have been told if an employee's sick leave runs out, a request can be made to Council to cover additional sick leave.

As for testing, Heglar said he believed the Town's insurance company would most likely cover that cost.

In New Hanover County, the County Health Department is offering tests to people without access to healthcare. Visit www.nhcgov.com

Editor's Note: I typically don't use anonymous sources, but in this case, the information comes directly from credible sources and cross referenced among those sources without revealing their identities. Doing so would violate the trust of agreeing to go "off the record" or, "On background".

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