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Buckhannon adopts employee COVID-19 testing, mask policy

The Inter-Mountain photo by Amanda Hayes Newly elected Buckhannon Mayor Robbie Skinner wears a face mask while presiding over his first Buckhannon City Council meeting.

BUCKHANNON — Buckhannon City Council adopted an employee COVID-19 testing and mask policy at its latest meeting.

City attorney Tom O’Neill said the recent uptick in positive COVID-19 cases in Upshur County as well as the number of positive tests that are getting closer and closer to city personnel prompted an evaluation of a testing and mask policy.

“The policy would require city employees to undergo a test for the active virus in certain circumstances,” he said. “They need to test negative before returning to work.”

Those circumstances include any employee whose work is interrupted due to contracting the COVID-19 virus or being exposed to the virus, any employee who is directly exposed to an individual who has tested positive for COVID-19 and any employees required by their department supervisors to take a test.

“Anyone who is under a stay-at-home or isolation or quarantine order must undergo a test and test negative prior to returning to work,” he said. “An employee who tests positive for COVID-19 must then test negative twice and those tests have to be 72 hours apart prior to being cleared to return to work.”

One of the measures already put in place by council was that employees must notify their supervisor if they leave the state.

O’Neill said this is in the new policy with the addition of a testing requirement.

Any employee who is away from work for more than three days, excluding the weekends or holidays, must test negative for the virus prior to returning to work and must wear a mask or face covering for three days after returning to work.

“The concern has to do with people traveling to hot spots on vacation,” O’Neill said. “We don’t want what is happening in Preston County to happen here. Forty active cases in Preston County are tied to individuals who traveled to Myrtle Beach. We don’t want a similar situation to happen here in the community more broadly, but more specifically, in a city department.”

O’Neill said all city employees are deemed essential workers because of the critical public services provided to the public every day from public safety to waste collection to water and sewer.

“If the virus was allowed to run rampant and entire departments became unable to function, it would have drastic ramifications for the community,” he said. “Imagine having the entire water department shut down for two weeks. It’s inconceivable. It would be a disaster.

“We are doing everything we can to try to mitigate the spread of the virus,” O’Neill said.

Any employee ordered to stay home must complete an employee certification before returning to work which affirms to the city they are not symptomatic and stating the last date that symptoms were present.

The City of Buckhannon has partnered with St. Joseph’s Hospital to provide COVID-19 tests of city employees at no cost to the employee. However, if an employee goes through another health care provider, the employee will bear the cost of that test.

The test results will be kept confidential.

Employees who have been directly exposed to an individual who tested positive for COVID-19 or has been subject to an isolation or quarantine order shall wear a face mask or covering while at work in proximity to others for 14 days.

‘I know the subject of masks is touchy; however, I think we look at it as wearing a mask is a matter of courtesy in the same way that covering your mouth when you sneeze is a matter of courtesy,” he said. “ “We have to do what we can to prevent the spread of this illness.

O’Neill said that employees who refuse to comply with the policy can be subject to employee discipline.

“Council by adopting this policy would be making the determination that these are necessary steps to mitigate the spread,” he said.

New mayor Robbie Skinner said he thought the policy was “excellent.”

“I think we are being proactive,” he said. “As Tom very correctly noted, all of our departments are small but do very important work and need to be protected as much as possible.”

Bucklew asked if the departments were made aware of the proposed policy.

Director of finance and administration Amberle Jenkins said there had been multiple discussions with department supervisors and “99 percent” were on board.

Councilman Dave Thomas said, “I think any employee who knows he or she has something and exposes the work force ought to be terminated. That is something you may want to think about eventually. I like your presentation that you made.”

Councilwoman Mary Albaugh moved to adopt the policy, seconded by councilman Jack Reger and the motion passed.

In other business, council approved two budget revisions that were explained by Jenkins.

“Coal tax funds are used towards our street department, “she said. “In coal tax, we had estimated $1,000 but we came into the year with $47,000. We still have some more paving to do.”

That brought the revised amount to $48,492 . To offset that, we are going to add that to the expenses in street department. They will have a total budget line item of $62,492.”

Thomas moved, seconded by Albaugh to approve the budget revision and council approved.

The second revision was for the general fund.

“We fell short in our progressions by $5,052,” Jenkins said. “I feel pretty sure we are going to make this up at some point in the year.”

Albaugh moved, seconded by Thomas to approve the budget revision and council approved.

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