Updated 9/25/20 - (Latest News in RED)
By now, we are all well aware of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak, but let’s take a closer look at controls to help slow transmission of the virus in our communities. Municipal facilities are normally locations the public visits to conduct business and attend public gatherings. From this standpoint, the community spread of this virus can be more easily transmitted from within our facilities. Community spread means that people have the potential to be infected by the virus through general contact means and not necessarily directly from an infected individual. Municipalities must consider community mitigation measures to help slow the transmission spread of the virus, especially with the absence of a current vaccine available to control the spread medically.
Updated – Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today (9/7/2020) signed legislation (S8617B/A10832) requiring all public employers to create plans to adequately protect workers in the event of another state disaster emergency involving a communicable disease. The plans would apply to both the state and localities, including school districts. Plans must be submitted to unions and labor management committees within 150 days, and plans need to be finalized on April 1, 2021. Check for Comp Alliance e-mails and our Comp Alliance web-site for additional information and risk management assistance.
Visit our Event Calendar at https://compalliance.org/events/calendar.html. To date, our Risk Management staff have conducted virtual training for over 900 attendees from about 70 municipal members.
Updated – Please be aware of toxic hand sanitizers being sold in New York State. The Food and Drug Administration has produced an updated warning for consumers about the risk of methanol contamination in certain hand sanitizers: https://www.fda.gov/drugs/drug-safety-and-availability/fda-updates-hand-sanitizers-methanol
Updated – With the majority of NYS entering Phase 4 reopenings, issues have been raised about the mandatory staff health screenings with relation to contact with positive cases of coronavirus. On a daily basis, health screenings should include at a minimum, if they have had a fever in the past few days, have they tested positive for COVID-19 in the past 10 days and if they have come in close contact with anyone who has tested positive in the past 10 days. If the answer to any of these questions is yes, they should self-quarantine for a period of up to 14-days. Both NYS and the CDC have issued guidelines for this process:
Your municipality must approve policies for the handing of these affirmative health screening questions, including time away from work, testing, and sick-leave standards.
Updated – From the NYS Governor’s Office, social gatherings of up to 50 people will be allowed as part of Phase 4. Currently, gatherings of up to 25 people are permitted in regions that are in Phase 3. Please confirm with your Regional Control Rooms to confirm the status of your region’s phase.
A reminder that the State has a mental health hotline available for anyone who needs it. We cannot underestimate how a crisis can impact our mental health. Remember: You are never alone. For free emotional support, consultations and referrals to a provider, call 1-844-863-9314.
The State is partnering with the company Headspace to provide New Yorkers with free meditation and mindfulness resources. We can't underestimate the impact this public health crisis has on mental health. New Yorkers can access a collection of free guided meditations, along with at-home mindfulness exercises and additional resources to help address rising stress and anxiety. Visit www.headspace.com/ny. In addition, to help curb loneliness and isolation during the pandemic, three Cornell students developed an app to help make a "Quarantine Buddy" and connect people of all ages from around the world as we are all social distancing.
Governor Cuomo issued an Executive Order authorizing businesses to deny entry to individuals not wearing masks or face-coverings. He has also issued an Executive Order allowing commercial buildings to conduct temperature checks for people entering office buildings as employees begin to return to the office – in an effort to keep office workers safe.
The Governor’s office has issued a Re-Opening NY Safety Plan Template - https://www.governor.ny.gov/sites/governor.ny.gov/files/atoms/files/NYS_BusinessReopeningSafetyPlanTemplate.pdf. Each re-opening business must develop a written Safety Plan outlining how its workplace will prevent the spread of COVID-19. A business may fill out this template to fulfill the requirement, or may develop its own Safety Plan. This plan does not need to be submitted to a state agency for approval but must be retained on the premises of the business and must made available to the New York State Department of Health (DOH) or local health or safety authorities in the event of an inspection. Additional Concerns is a document produced by the Comp Alliance Risk Management Department and is available at www.compalliance.org and contains other items of interest for our municipal members during this re-opening phase.
New York's diagnostic testing criteria have been expanded further. If you are eligible, I encourage you to get tested. Testing is FREE and available to:
- Any individual who has COVID-19 symptoms
- Any individual who has had contact with a person known to be positive with COVID-19
- Any individual who is subject to a precautionary or mandatory quarantine
- Any individual who is employed as a health care worker, nursing home worker or first responder
- Any essential worker who directly interacts with the public while working
- Any individual who would return to the workplace in Phase 1 of the state's reopening plan
- Any persons attending/returning from protest rallies
There are over 700 locations where New Yorkers can get diagnostic testing. New Yorkers can visit a new website — coronavirus.health.ny.gov/find-test-site-near-you — and enter their address to view a list and a map view of the nearest testing sites. The state has also partnered with Google Maps to display testing site results. New Yorkers can search "COVID testing near me" on Google Maps to easily find the nearest testing sites. Please remember you must always schedule an appointment to get a COVID-19 diagnostic test by calling 1-888-364-3065 or your healthcare provider.
With the requirement to wear face coverings, it is important to know the proper way to put-on and take-off the masks. If the respirator (face mask) has a nosepiece, it should be fitted to the nose with both hands, not bent or tented. Do not pinch the nosepiece with one hand. Respirator/facemask should be extended under chin. Both your mouth and nose should be protected. Do not wear/push the respirator/facemask under your chin or store in clothes pockets between use.
- Respirator: Respirator straps should be placed on crown of head (top strap) and base of neck (bottom strap). Perform a user seal check each time you put on the respirator.
- Facemask: Mask ties should be secured on crown of head (top tie) and base of neck (bottom tie). If mask has loops, hook them appropriately around your ears.
Remove and discard respirator (or facemask if used instead of respirator). Do not touch the front of the respirator or facemask:
- Respirator: Remove the bottom strap by touching only the strap and bring it carefully over the head. Grasp the top strap and bring it carefully over the head, and then pull the respirator away from the face without touching the front of the respirator.
- Facemask: Carefully untie (or unhook from the ears) and pull away from face without touching the front.
Perform hand hygiene after removing the respirator/facemask and before putting it on again if your workplace is practicing reuse.
The State COVID-19 tracker now includes more comprehensive demographics. The website, www.ny.gov/covid-19tracker, now includes additional data on the gender distribution of positive cases, as well as fatalities by age group.
Community spread of the coronavirus is not completely understood, but the virus is thought mostly to spread from person-to-person through close contact and from respiratory droplets whereby an infected person’s cough or sneeze produces airborne droplets which can then land in the mucous membranes of others (nose, eyes, mouth) or possibly inhaled into the lungs. People are thought to be most contagious when they are most symptomatic, but spread of the virus might be possible before infected persons show symptoms. It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes. The virus that causes COVID-19 seems to be spreading easily and sustainably in the community (“community spread”) in some affected geographic areas.
Community transmission prevention measures to be considered by our Comp Alliance municipal members include the current preventative measures expressed by Federal and NYS public health agencies – with an emphasis on individual employee responsibilities to implement prevention measures. In particular, consider the following measures:
- Employee hand washing on a routine basis and after contact with the public, utilize hand sanitizer (containing 60-95% alcohol) for use after contact with the public and/or co-workers and throughout the work day.
- Maintain clean work areas, sanitize work areas which are “high-touch” areas such as public counters, door knobs, light switches, desk tops, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets, and sinks.
- Look to minimize the areas which employees and the public access in your facilities, to reduce the potential for contamination, transmission and those areas which have to be routinely sanitized.
- When practicable, minimize hours that employees are susceptible to community spread, including adjusting work hours, closing/postponing non-essential public operations/events, and develop alternate public contact operations, where applicable. Consideration should also be given to see if employees can effectively work from home – this might be difficult given the community-service work completed by municipal departments, but still worth your attention.
- Employees feeling ill may have the following symptoms – fever, cough, shortness of breath – and should be separated from other employees, encouraged to leave work or stay home, and contact their doctor. Remember to cover your mouth when coughing and covering your nose when sneezing.
- Employees responsible for custodial maintenance should always be wearing disposable gloves when cleaning public areas, restrooms and restocking restroom supplies (soap, sanitizer, toiletries) and remove these gloves safely prior to leaving the restrooms or sanitized space to prevent cross-contamination.
- Perhaps the most effective document produced to date on the implementation of controls for community transmission of coronavirus has been produced by the CDC: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/downloads/community-mitigation-strategy.pdf.
Municipal employees in Public Works/Highway facilities should also look to wash and sanitize hands on a routine basis, plus minimize break-room use and utilize social distancing when possible with co-workers and the public. Clean tools between use – utilize disposable sanitary cloths to wipe-down tools between uses to minimize community transmission. Consider your other work spaces too, like cabs of trucks and equipment controls – look to wipe-down steering wheels between use, shift levers, equipment control shifts, vehicle door handles, and other surfaces inside vehicles touched by staff throughout the day, plus those “high-touch” areas around the garage like fuel pump handles and garage door openers. Provide proper personal protective equipment (PPE) – some work functions may need to adapt new PPE procedures. Launder work clothing thoroughly and wash hands after touching soiled work clothing.
Additional considerations for the health of your employees should include:
- Encourage staff members to eat a balanced diet, get enough sleep, and exercise regularly to help them develop strong immune systems capable of fighting illness
- Consider changing the air conditioning system filters; during the day, where possible, increase ventilation
- Maintain stock of sanitary and infection-control supplies and have supplies available to applicable staff for use throughout the facility.
An issue certainly related to coronavirus fears will be the increase of stress in the workplace. Employees are certain to be dealing with additional stress in their lives and interact with a public which is likely to have additional stress as well. Stress can make workers irritable and anxious, effecting them physically and mentally, and lingers when not addressed positively. These periods of high-stress inflicted on your community and staff will create situations where tempers become short and arguments occur that might erupt into potential violence. Administrators will observe employees and they themselves should self-monitor for looming stress and be instructed to overcome its negative effects. Encourage staff to remain positive during interactions with the public – understand that the community will be under stress and assist them in a positive manner. When staff experience high-stress, require them to take a constructive “time-out” where they can relax, stretch, slow their breathing, walk, communicate with family and friends throughout the day, and take a break from the stressors of work. Encourage employees to develop personal coping mechanisms (identify productive activities which they find fun and take comfort in), and finally, encourage them to develop good sleep habits as a good night’s sleep is an effective contributor to a positive attitude.
Municipal administrators must consider the continuity of operations, and how to maintain essential operations should the coronavirus severely affect your community and work environment. Essential services such as water and sewer treatment, police services, fire services, electrical services, payroll, among others, are still required for municipal operation when employees may be sick or at the suggestion of their doctor, are required to be self-quarantined. Consider emergency operations during these conditions – are there outside contractors available, are shared service agreements in place with surrounding municipalities (including County and NYS services), are other department workers available and trained to short-term substitute for sick employees (i.e. water and sewer plant certified operators), will services have to be diminished due to the lack of available employees and how is this communicated to the public, and consider the order of administrative succession and how will leadership be delegated for the municipality as a whole and within vital departments? For this reason it is important to make sure that duly-authorized deputies are appointed and ready to act in the event that a principal officer falls ill, self-quarantines or is otherwise unable to perform the duties of the office.
The preventive and preparatory measures discussed here are intended to help slow the transmission of COVID-19, but there remains a great deal of uncertainty and the situation remains fluid. We urge all our members to exercise caution and watch for further guidance.