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County mask/test policy moves forward

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COVID card and mask graphic

Elected officials to pay fine for non-compliance

The Crawford County Board of Supervisors on Monday had a lengthy discussion about the proposed county employee vaccination or mask/test mandate, which must be in place by Monday, January 10, according to a new Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) for employers with more than 100 employees.

At the Monday meeting, County Attorney Colin Johnson presented a draft of the COVID-19 vaccination or mask/testing policy for the supervisors to review.

The county will not pay for masks but will pay for the cost of testing, according to the policy.

Johnson said Deputy County Auditor Amy Pieper and Crawford County Public Health Director Kim Fineran had given a thumbs-up to the draft of the policy.

Crawford County Emergency Management Coordinator Greg Miller said he had a large supply of surgical masks.

“The county can certainly provide masks, but as the policy is written, the county does not have to pay for individual masks,” Johnson said.

He noted that the policy reflects recent changes to OSHA isolation and masking guidance; that guidance changed from 10 days of isolation and masking after a positive COVID test to five days of each.

Johnson said he had removed, at the supervisors’ request, a provision that would have allowed employees to swear in an affidavit that they were vaccinated, and use that as proof of vaccination.

Disciplinary action was an area on which the county would have to focus, he said.

“The (county employee) handbook provides for discipline action: verbal warning, written warning, suspension, termination,” Johnson said.

“It would still be department heads that manage their people,” said Board Chairman Kyle Schultz.

“There is a discipline policy in the handbook for department heads to follow,” Johnson said. “When it comes to board of supervisors and elected officials, we are subject to the same policy. So who polices the police and what happens if a person who doesn’t have a department head above them doesn’t follow the policy?”

He said Iowa Code Chapter 66 has a provision for removing elected officials, but said he didn’t know if not following a mask/test policy would reach a level at which that law could be used.

Schultz said his opinion was that elected officials should practice what they preach.

“I wouldn’t demand someone else do something that I wouldn’t do myself,” he said.

Johnson said he agreed with Schultz on the point.

Later in the meeting, they returned to the subject of policy enforcement for elected officials.

Johnson pointed to a section of the draft policy that Fineran, Pieper and he had worked out.

“If an elected official fails to comply, and a fine is levied by OSHA, then the policy would shift that financial burden onto the elected official,” Johnson said.

He noted that the supervisors were not required to enact such a policy as it was not required by OSHA.

“I’m not worried. I’m going to follow the law,” said Supervisor Jean Heiden.

Vogt also said she had no problem with it.

Supervisor Ty Rosburg, who wore a cloth mask during the meeting, said “I’m only wearing this damn thing (the mask) for the people here. I don’t care what OSHA says. I had a cough when I woke up yesterday so I put this thing on.”

Rosburg spent a significant portion of a discussion during the previous week expressing his disapproval of the mandate.

Johnson said the fine for non-compliance is $13,000, but would not be imposed in all cases.

“There can be a violation of this policy without OSHA levying a fine,” he said.

The supervisors agreed to the fines for elected officials.

Earlier in the meeting, a lengthy discussion of employee sick leave took place; the following is an edited and condensed account.

Johnson said OSHA was clear that employees will receive paid time off to get vaccinated; if they have any side effects of vaccination, employees must be allowed sick leave until they recover from the side effects; if they have no sick leave, OSHA requires the county to give additional sick leave of two days to recover from any side effects.

OSHA does not require the county to give paid time off for employees who must isolate for five days after a positive test.

He said the board would have to decide how that would be handled.

Pieper said current county practice is to use sick leave, comp time or vacation if available.

Schultz said that, at the beginning of the pandemic two years ago, the board had decided not to let anyone be sick and not be paid.

Pieper noted that rule, for 10 sick days, was federally mandated.

“Should we offer that same courtesy here, again?” Schultz asked. “It’s a mandate we really can’t control …”

He said new county employees would not have any sick leave in the bank at first.

Schultz suggested allowing new employees to use five days ahead if needed.

Heiden asked if he meant for COVID only; Schultz said he did, because new employees would have no sick time and could be mandated to stay home.

Isolation at home would begin with proof of a positive test, Pieper said.

“I just don’t like when mandates tie our employees’ or our hands behind our backs,” Schultz said.

Allowing employees to go five days in the red with sick leave would be more than a fair offer, he said.

Rosburg said he agreed with Schultz.

“Only five days – or (for) any COVID-related isolation time?” Johnson asked.

“It could be six months, honestly,” Pieper said.

Heiden said comp time and vacation should be used before an employee could use sick leave ahead.

“How does that work for mothers with kids that are sick …?” Rosburg asked.

The previous policy was only for employees who had tested positive for COVID, Pieper said.

After additional discussion, the supervisors agreed to meet again today (Friday, January 7) to finalize the policy, which must be in place by Monday.

The policy will take effect on February 9 unless the Supreme Court rules against it; the court is set to take up the issue today.

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