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Cities cope with COVID resurgence

by CHARLES H. FEATHERSTONE
Staff Writer | November 20, 2020 1:00 AM

EPHRATA — As COVID-19 cases rise across the region, cities are adjusting work schedules to ensure whole departments aren’t quarantined if an employee tests positive.

In an online meeting Wednesday evening, members of the Ephrata City Council voted unanimously to split the city’s workforce into two cohorts — one working from 7 a.m. to noon and the other working from 12:30 to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday — to ensure city business continues if someone gets COVID-19.

“We will split the staff in half so we’re not all exposed if one of the staff gets sick,” said City Administrator Mike Warren.

Warren said the measure was necessary because despite city hall being closed to the general public, very few of city’s workers can actually do their jobs from home.

“The majority of work requires being in the office, and there’s very little of it that can be sent home,” Warren said.

Warren added city workers would continue to be on-call for three additional hours Monday through Friday if needed, and would be asked to do what they could at home, so no one would be receiving a pay cut for the duration.

“It’s not like this is a vacation,” said Mayor Bruce Reim. “We can still call you in.”

According to Lynne Lynch, a spokesperson for the City of Moses Lake, staff at the city’s water department have also been divided into two cohorts working full-time — 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. — alternating weeks.

Lynch said that employees not working are considered “on-call” and on paid administrative leave.

Quincy City Administrator Pat Haley wrote in an email Quincy continues to limit “in-person” visits at city hall and encourages working from home as much as possible to deal with the rise in COVID-19 cases.

“Our buildings are more separated than Ephrata, which may explain the need for them to take such action,” Haley wrote in response to a query from the Columbia Basin Herald. “Quincy City Hall has more individual offices and only 6 people at full capacity, with the mayor and city attorney working a couple days per week.”

Soap Lake Mayor Alex Kovach said City Hall remains closed to the public and city staff — including police officers — are maintaining social distancing and doing as much work as they can from home.

“The officers have rotating shifts that keep them separate from each other. As first responders they are at higher risk and exposed to more people, and have been going into quarantine if there are any questions of exposure,” Kovach wrote in an email to the Columbia Basin Herald.

Kovach also said city departments are effectively isolated from each other, and the city is investing heavily in video conferencing. However, Kovach noted the city of Soap Lake has been extremely fortunate in regard to COVID-19.

“So far we have been lucky with staff being COVID-19 free, with just a few officers put in quarantine at different times because of exposure to someone that tested positive with the coronavirus,” he wrote.

Charles H. Featherstone can be reached at cfeatherstone@columbiabasinherald.com.