Updated 4/9/20 - (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 Cuomo has directed the state nonessential workforce to continue to work from home for an additional two weeks through April 29th. In-person workforce restrictions, which have been implemented through various executive orders are also extended until April 29th.
Updated – The Governor has ordered that flags on state government buildings have been directed to be flown at half-staff in honor of those we have lost to COVID-19 and will remain lowered while New York is on PAUSE.
Updated - 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.
Updated – The Comp Alliance Risk Management team will be reaching out to our members over the next few days and weeks to assist with safety concerns, including training programs. Please identify areas of concern and training needs so that we may arrange for on-line training and safety updates.
Updated – From the NYS Coronavirus Update - A mental health hotline is available to New Yorkers who need it. We can't underestimate the impact this pandemic is having on mental health. The Governor is proud that over 6,000 mental health professionals have volunteered their time to help with New York's Coronavirus response. For free emotional support, consultation and referral to a provider, call 1-844-863-9314.
Updated - 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.
Updated - It remains vital to ensure the safety of our members - continue to practice social distancing as much as is possible, given the need to maintain a semblance of operations for the public. Encourage routine cleanings of office and work spaces, separate employee work space as much as is possible and consider alternating work shifts to accommodate employees and maintain safe facilities. Especially consider safe job functions during diminished worker availability – it is vital that the work be completed in a safe manner with only knowledgeable, trained staff assigned for all work, especially hazardous job functions.
Updated - Long Island's number of Coronavirus cases, as a percentage of the total number of cases in our state, has grown to 22% from 15% on March 22. That's worrisome. The Governor urges Long Island residents, and all New Yorkers, to stay at home and if you must go out, to practice social distancing. We need to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and we all have a role to play.
Updated – Reference the www.CompAlliance.org website’s latest Safety Bulletin for an article from the Risk Management department on working with skeleton crews. It is vital to re-evaluate you work functions to make sure that all work is completed safely when regular workers are not available. Supervisor and Department Heads must contribute to your municipal Safety Culture and only perform job tasks which can be safely completed when staffing is limited.
Updated – the Governor of NYS has issued requirements for municipal operations in the state – visit the latest information at the State Health Department’s web-site: https://coronavirus.health.ny.gov/home Bookmark this page to quick reference throughout the day. Newly issued is a requirement that 100% of the workforce must stay home, excluding essential services. Please use extreme caution when completing tasks, especially any high-hazard job functions, with reduced work forces!! Employee safety must be at the forefront of your thinking when any/all work is completed. Prioritize workplace security controls when employees work during skeleton-shifts as they will be more susceptible to workplace violence and workplace injuries, where assistance may not be readily available on-site.
Updated - New York State on PAUSE: In New York we know that Policies Assure Uniform Safety for Everyone. Three essential points (out of ten) of the PAUSE order are:
- Non-essential gatherings of individuals of any size for any reason (e.g. parties, celebrations or other social events) are canceled or postponed at this time
- Businesses and entities that provide other essential services must implement rules that help facilitate social distancing of at least six feet
- Use precautionary sanitizer practices such as using isopropyl alcohol wipes
Updated - Governor Cuomo Issues Guidance on Essential Services Under The 'New York State on PAUSE' Executive Order. Click this link for important information on essential municipal services:
Department of Motor Vehicles offices are temporarily closed for in-office visits. Online transactions, including for license renewals, are still be available. License and permit expirations will be extended.
Enacting Matilda’s Law to protect New Yorkers age 70+ and those with compromised immune systems -
In addition, NYS Courts have issued new issued requirements for local municipal court closings at
A recent study from the New England Journal of Medicine studied the surface stability of COVID-19 and found that it can remain airborne for up to 3 hours, on cardboard surfaces for up to 24 hours, and on plastic or stainless-steel surfaces for up to 72-hours. Improve or maintain cleaning and sanitizing efforts with these new details in mind.
Employees are under increased stress and work-pressures during this period. Uncertainties about completing work, when to report to work, family/children now at home when they were in school, worries about parents or older family members, etc., all lead to increased stress and anxiety for all of us. It is vital for all employees to remain grounded, self-monitor for signs of stress and anxiety, and take steps to reduce the stress levels. Center for Disease Control has issued recommendations on managing stress and anxiety:
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.
For areas of assembly within your facilities, strongly consider the cancellation of meetings and events where large gatherings are planned – UPDATED – all group events at your municipal facilities should be cancelled and not rescheduled until an “All-clear” is given by the State – to be no earlier than April 29, 2020. For smaller groups (less than 10 people) when cancellation is not a viable option, utilize “social distancing” whereby attendees maintain a distance of at least six feet to minimize community spread of the virus. Larger groups (more than 10 people) are less likely to maintain these safe distances and are prohibited, but evaluate your meeting space for consideration of these social distancing recommendations and consider if larger meeting spaces are available to municipality.
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.