City of Spencer employees may soon be asked to consider wearing CDC-recommended cloth masks when in public.
Mayor Kevin Robinson brought up the idea during Monday’s city council meeting. The CDC just days earlier issued a recommendation that the general public consider wearing cloth masks in certain situations.
“Because we have essential staff members, I just wanted a unified message to them that what the CDC said is important, the reason they said it is important,” Robinson said to the council. “And we certainly endorse what they have said and encourage them to wear masks while they’re in public.”
To help slow the spread of the new coronavirus and COVID-19, the disease it causes, the CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in any public setting where social distancing measures are difficult to maintain. This would include places such as grocery stores and pharmacies.
The CDC states that this recommendation is due to the fact that many people who carry the virus are asymptomatic and will never develop symptoms but are still contagious. Others are could develop symptoms later but are already contagious.
The CDC still recommends staying at least six feet away from others while in public in addition to wearing masks.
Robinson said he wanted to get the city council’s thoughts on issuing that guidance to city employees.
“If the citizens of Spencer are sitting in their houses, or are out in their yard and sees a (City of) Spencer employee with a mask on, I think it just sends a good message to the rest of the community,” Ward 2 Councilman Bill Orrison said.
Ward 1 Councilman Tom Nelson said he agrees with Orrison.
“I certainly think we have to follow CDC guidelines,” Nelson said. “I mean, it’s not rocket science.”
Orrison asked Robinson whether he would be able to get masks for city employees.
“We’ve had people in the community express an interest in making CDC-recommended cloth masks,” Robinson answered.
Robinson then put out a call for masks, adding that between all of the city’s departments – and rural providers, too – about 500 masks would be needed.
“If we could somehow come around 500 masks, that would be fantastic,” Robinson said.
Ward 4 Councilman Donavan Wunschel said the masks are a good idea but take time to make, so who gets them first must be prioritized.
“As they come available, I think they need to go out to the departments first that are more involved with the public and then filter down to, you know, when we have them available that they need to be wearing them while they’re working with the public,” Wuenschel said.
Council votes to ensure continued compensation and benefits for city employees through April
The council also voted 6-0 to continue compensation and benefits for city employees through April if their work is disrupted.
“Our goal right now is to provide minimal disruption to the public while also protecting our employees,” Mack told the council.
City Manager Amanda Mack read from an agenda item cover page she wrote to give the council an overview of the recommendation.
The document stated that Mack, City Attorney Don Hemphill, Finance Director Brian Weuve and City Clerk Theresa Reardon met last week to go over how new programs and laws in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic apply to city employees.
In the memo, Mack writes that the city is “at a point where employees who are able to work from home should be, and that our larger crews, such as the street division, should be split into two shifts, with some employees working one day and the others the next day in order to slow the spread and minimize exposure of COVID-19.”
City leadership discussed new laws, such as the Families First Act, which provides additional sick leave to employees, among other benefits, but that isn’t applicable to employees on split shifts or if work is unavailable, the memo states. Programs such as unemployment were also discussed, but that would affect employee health benefits and retirement contributions.
Mack asks in the memo that the council approve continued compensation and benefits for city employees through the month of April if their work is disrupted.
“We don’t know how long this will last, but we meet with the hospital and other area leaders daily and at this time, can reasonably assume the epidemic will peak in Iowa mid- to late-April,” Marck writes. “Should we need to continue with modified schedules into May or later, we will look at formal furloughs for employees and other options that may be available and bring a recommendation to you.”
Both Clay County and Spencer School District have taken similar steps for their employees.
“I’m sure this took a tremendous amount of time and energy, and with everything going on, you’ve been crazy busy with everything and appreciate your time and effort towards it,” Ward 1 Councilman Tom Nelson said to Mack. “I assume department heads and everybody was OK with this (plan). Did you run into much disagreement at all?”
“Truthfully, no,” Mack responded.