Flint, MI–With a rise in COVID-19 cases at City Hall, the Flint City Council is looking for a plan to keep employees safe.
But officials say the protocols are in place, and the problem is employees who don’t want to follow them.
“People don’t want to adhere to the rules. The rules are there, and that’s what we run into,” City Administrator Clyde Edwards said during a special meeting on Jan. 5. “I don’t think any amount of closure, any amount of activity that discontinues City Hall operations is going to effectively change those behaviors.”
Council President Eric Mays and Councilwoman Jerri Winfrey-Carter called the special meeting following closure of the customer service lobby “due to exposure to COVID-19,” per a press release from the city from Jan. 4. Edwards said during the meeting that it was closed because city hall was “short-staffed,” which “could be for COVID and for other reasons.”
Director of Human Resources Eddie Smith said during the special meeting that in January alone, there were nine or 10 cases so far.
“You go back to December, I think there’s about 10 there. So there’s a lot,” he said.
The council asked Smith if there had been any changes in procedure as a result of the recent surge in COVID-19 cases.
“I’m getting calls from employees in different departments and they say, ‘I’m scared.’ They don’t want to go,” Mays said.
But Smith said there had been “no immediate changes,” and explained that the practices they have in place are what they had initiated in March of 2020. Those include temperature checks in each office, masking when interacting with others, using an app to log symptoms, deep cleaning, and getting tested at Hurley Hospital whenever there is a suspected outbreak or known person with COVID-19.
“Every time someone tests positive for COVID we will send that department an email to let them know that it happened, and the purpose of that is so that anyone being around that person can start monitoring their condition,” Smith said.
He said employees who are sent from work to the hospital to get tested are still being paid for their testing time. But if they test positive and have to quarantine for five days, employees either use their paid time off, or don’t get paid at all.
Some council members said the fact that employees aren’t getting paid while they have COVID-19, is a “red flag.”
“It’s not fair that they have to use their PTO time to stay home to quarantine. I mean they have to quarantine, but … I don’t think that’s right. That’s a red flag,” Winfrey-Carter said.
Councilwoman Allie Herkenroder asked if employees who test positive would be able to work from home while quarantining, but Smith said it depends.
“To be able to work from home, you have to be able to be in a position that allows you to do that, and with authorization of your supervisor,” Smith said.
He said the city has had some employees working remotely, and some doing a combination of in-person and remote work, but that it is “very difficult to have a supervisor working remote all the time.”
Mays asked about the possibility of purchasing self-testing kits, and N95 masks for city hall employees.
“I think we can put our best foot forward to see what we can do to try to help mitigate, help employees, and then even compensate. Put our money where our mouth is,” Mays said.
Smith said while those things would help, the real challenge is cooperation.
“I mean we can get them you know, and we do have some of the N95s around for distribution, but again, you know, the biggest problem is just getting people to wear them,” Smith said.
Edwards echoed that sentiment, saying the administration has been implementing a lot of different policies and procedures, “but you can’t legislate people and their behavior.”
He said there have been no disciplinary actions taken against employees who are out of compliance, but that it has been addressed with managers who must then deal with the issues with their employees.
“Unless you do what the NBA did and put the people in a bubble, there’s going to be no real way to effectively change the behavior,” Edwards said.
Mays requested that the administration let the council know if there are any changes in the protocols and plan for dealing with COVID-19 at city hall over the next few days.