Good afternoon everyone.
Questions have been raised about our recent exposure to COVID-19 and time off taken in response to the threat of this very contagious virus. Concerns about this exposure are valid and everyone is right to be on heightened alert as we move forward. Please remember to wear PPE and practice social distancing while present at the County building.
When the positive COVID-19 test was first reported last Thursday, we immediately implemented procedures called for in the Ogemaw County COVID-19 Preparedness and Response Plan (Plan) approved by the Board of Commissioners on May 28. Employees in the affected department were sent home to quarantine and/or secure a COVID-19 test. All employees were notified of the confirmed case by Email. Affected parts of the County Building were secured for thorough cleaning and disinfecting. The entire building was cleaned following CDC guidelines later in the day on Thursday, and the building was idle for the next three days.
Over the weekend we learned that a second employee tested positive for COVID-19. Although the employee was not in the workplace after cleaning efforts that took place last Thursday, a decision was made to close the entire County building until another round of cleaning and disinfecting was completed. Touch-point cleaning was repeated in all offices and common areas of the building along with a supplemental Ozone treatment. While Ozone effectiveness against COVID-19 is debatable, this additional effort does provide more certainty of a safe, healthy workplace. This additional cleaning effort took place over two days.
By now employees and the public are aware of a question on the daily check-in form which asks, “Have you been in close contact in the last 14 days with someone with the COVID-19 diagnosis.” Reference to “close contact” is key. Our Plan defines “close contact” as being “within six feet for a prolonged period of time without PPE.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides additional guidance in their definition of close contact as “any individual who was within six feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes starting from two days before illness onset (or, for asymptomatic patients, two days prior to positive specimen collection) until the time the patient is isolated.”
Several employees reported having direct exposure to the two employees who tested positive and being within six feet of the infected employees on at least one occasion. This description certainly meets the distancing criteria of the “close contact” definitions, but three other variables remain: Was he/she within six feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes? Did his/her contact with the infected person occur starting from two days before illness onset? Were he/she wearing PPE at the time of contact? Anyone who answers “yes” to all these criteria should at least be tested and self-quarantine until the results are known. Alternatively, those who feel compromised can self-quarantine for 14 days.
Use of accrued time off (PTO or sick) in this instance is consistent with the intended purpose of sick time. Persons infected with a flu virus, for instance, would be encouraged (if not ordered) to stay away from the workplace to lessen the risk to other employees and the public. Note, however, that the means of infection acquisition (at work or outside of work) is not considered. Illnesses can be transmitted from many sources, which is the primary reason why employers generally provide sick time. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) guarantees employees will receive up to two weeks of paid sick leave for qualifying reasons related to COVID-19 through December 31. For those who lack sufficient time, Ogemaw County will supplement accrued time off with additional paid time off under FFCRA to meet the two-week requirement. The FFCRA caps the paid time off requirement at two weeks. For calculation purposes, do not include days when the County Building was closed as sick/PTO time.
In summary, the County initiated intense cleaning based on CDC guidelines immediately upon learning of a positive test. The building was unoccupied for three days after the first-reported positive result. The County took the additional step of hiring a vendor to repeat touch-point cleaning throughout the entire building (again according to CDC guidelines) and supplemented that effort with the Ozone treatment. The health and safety of our employees has been and continues to be at the forefront of our efforts. There will likely be disagreements along the way, and that’s fine. However, it should be known that the County reacted to this novel situation in a manner that exceeded standards set in the adopted Plan.
Some employees who sought a COVID-19 test were denied by local health care providers because they did not exhibit symptoms of COVID-19. We are working with the Health Department to arrange a community-wide COVID-19 testing opportunity regardless of symptom status. There is no guarantee of success, but we will make the attempt. In the meantime, the closest drive-through test center is Sterling Area Health Center located at 725 E State Street in Sterling. A referral is not required and they are testing all patients. Call (989) 654-2491 to make an appointment.
In conclusion, if you believe you should self-quarantine, please do so without hesitation. You will be required to use accrued time off with FFCRA supplemental time off as needed. This approach is consistent with the Plan adopted by Ogemaw County on May 28, Executive Orders of the Governor, and the FFCRA. Do not include days when the County Building was closed in sick/PTO time calculations. You can click on the link below for a copy of the Plan for your reference.
An one more gentle reminder – please wear your PPE and practice social distancing in all County facilities.