The Forest City Council recently approved a new infectious disease policy that provides for a self-quarantine for employees who are returning from an overseas country during an epidemic or pandemic to take off work if mutually agreed by the city and the employee.
“I really don’t want the city to be the first ones to bring the coronavirus to the city,” city administrator Barb Smith said.
According to the resolution, approved during the city council meeting March 2, the city wants to reduce the transmission of infectious diseases among staff and protect staff and members of the public who are at a higher risk for adverse health complications while still maintaining business operations within the city government.
During an infectious disease outbreak as defined by the Iowa Department of Public Health or the United States Center for Disease Control, Forest City will ask any employee who is returning from travel out of the United States or is known to have had contact with someone who has been diagnosed with the infectious disease to “voluntarily remain home from work during the disease’s incubation period,” according to the new policy.
If it is mutually agreed upon between the employee and the city, the employee can work from home if possible; if the employee cannot work from home, the city will pay half of the employee’s lost wages for the agreed length of time the employee is off work.
The employee can use sick pay, vacation pay or compensatory time for the remaining half of lost wages if they so choose.
If an employee is diagnosed with an infectious disease or actively showing the symptoms of an infectious disease, they should remain home for as long as they are contagious.
Smith said the policy came up quickly a week ago after she learned a city employee had left to go to Europe, visiting nearly every country bordering the north side of Italy.
“The employees that work with this employee are concerned with him bringing coronavirus back,” she said. “So this is not necessarily to give the employee two weeks of pay, this is for the peace of mind of our employees working with this person.”
If the employee agrees to take off work during the incubation period, which is two days to two weeks for coronavirus, they must stay quarantined within their home the whole time, Smith said.
Smith said putting the policy in place now will do well to protect employees from any future epidemics or pandemics as well as the coronavirus.
“It seems to me every two years we’re getting an epidemic – any more that’s reached a pandemic it seems like worldwide, you know?” Smith said. “Just two years ago it was ebola. We didn’t have anybody that was going to an infected place, but if we have this policy in effect then we’re moving forward.”
During the meeting, council members debated getting test kits as an alternative to giving two weeks off city employees, but the issue with that is it can take two weeks for them to test positive.
The policy passed 5-2, with council members Karl Wooldridge and Dennis Zehren voting against it.
Wooldridge said he voted against the policy because he had some constituents reach out to him asking why the city would pay for employees to be on vacation after they’ve already been on vacation.
“I don’t think that they probably had the knowledge of how it’s worded,” he said. “I just felt that where we were at I guess I don’t know that it’s necessary yet.”
He said there have been viruses coming around for 20 years with epidemics and pandemics in tow, but it hasn’t every really affected people in North Iowa.
“I just felt that at this time it was kind of a knee-jerk reaction,” Wooldridge said.
Even though he voted against it, Wooldridge said he thinks it’s a good policy for the city to have, though they may be going a little too fast in creating and implementing it.
Council member Leslie Torkelson said she was torn on how to vote on the policy because she doesn’t want a big government but she has to think about how her constituents feel on the issue.
“As a city council person, you have to set aside your personal perspective on things because I represent all of the residents in my ward, so I have to think about what is best for all of the residents in my ward,” she said.
Grace Zaplatynsky can be reached at 641-421-0534.
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