Blair employees question COVID-19 protocol plan

HOLLIDAYSBURG — Blair County employees are raising questions and concerns about a plan to be put into place if an employee develops a probable or confirmed case of COVID-19.

The plan calls for sheriff deputies to begin taking employee temperatures when employees arrive for work at the courthouse, a task that Sheriff James Ott has agreed will begin if needed.

“I know some of the deputies aren’t happy about this, but I’m trying to be cooperative,” Ott said. “And we’re already at the door as it is.”

Deputies regularly staff the courthouse front door to conduct security screenings.

If an employee develops a probable or confirmed case of COVID-19, deputies will be taking temperatures, too.

That’s a problem, according to 62 employees who signed a letter sent to Human Resources Director Katherine Swigart, with copies forwarded to Ott and other county leaders.

Sheriff deputies are not certified health care workers with training to recognize and identify potential signs or symptoms of COVID-19 or any other kind of common flu virus, the employees pointed out.

“Do we know what a COVID toe looks like?” the employees asked in the letter.

Swigart sent a memo in late May to county employees about the plan and named “COVID toe” (a toe with purple/blue lesions) as a COVID-19 symptom. Other symptoms in the memo include a fever at or above 100.4 degrees, coughing, shortness of breath, chills, diarrhea, skin rash, runny nose, red eyes and fatigue.

Ott said that Swigart contacted him about the plan and he agreed that something should be in place ahead of an occurrence. But he said his deputies are to be involved only with the temperature-taking task.

“That’s the only thing they’re going to be doing,” he said. “The rest will fall to the HR office to handle.”

Swigart’s memo indicates infrared forehead-reading thermometers are being purchased, and Ott said that two of his officers have gone through a brief training on their use.

“You don’t need to be a certified nurse to take a non-contact temperature reading,” Ott said.

As for what happens if a deputy finds an employee with a temperature of 100.4 or higher, Ott said that will be reported to human resources.

“And what happens after that will be up to human resources,” he said.

Based on Swigart’s memo, employees with temperatures above 100.4 are to immediately leave the premises and they’re to notify the human resources department, which will update the employee’s department head and co-workers.

The employees, in their letter, raised additional concerns, including the risks and lack of hazard pay for deputies assigned to do the testing, the lines that could form because employees are getting their temperatures taken and why everyone doesn’t have to have their temperature taken before entering the courthouse.

“The implementation of this county protocol,” the letter states, “does not fully enhance the safety of the workers, especially the members of the sheriff’s office.”

Swigart also mentioned in her memo to employees that the information offered and the proposed plan were prepared to be in compliance with the state Department of Health order, in the event of a probable or confirmed COVID-19 case in a county work space.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.


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