On behalf of CEO Jeff Szabo:
To all Employees:
Below are the answers to the questions you’ve asked since yesterday morning about the COVID-19 virus and SCWA protocol during the outbreak. Please note that the questions you submitted may have been edited for clarity and/or combined with other similar questions from other employees.
I hope this is helpful and please feel free to send any additional questions to Tim Motz at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please post this message for those without email accounts.
Has it been discussed how to handle our business in the event of widespread school closures? I’m sure there are a lot of employees with young children in school that will have a hard time coming to work because they will not have child care.
Yes. We are currently developing a procedure for employees, both management and union, to request a shift change during the COVID-19 outbreak to allow employees, whenever possible, to change their work hours that allow them to look after their children in the event of school closures. An HR form will be available for employees to request a shift change, likely by this afternoon. Please note that a request will only be granted if it specifically pertains to the virus and when it does not impact our ability to ensure the continuity of our vital operations.
This plan would have the additional benefit of limiting the number the employees in a given office at a given time, which in and of itself will help to protect the safety of our workforce.
When a person comes into work sick, not knowing if it’s a just a common cold, allergies or COVID-19, will they be either mandated to go home or mandated to stay at work?
If an employee is sick, they should stay home, particularly if he or she has symptoms associated with the virus, such as a fever, shortness of breath or cough. If a supervisor has reason to feel that an employee has such symptoms, the supervisor may tell the employee to go home for the safety of other employees. As to the second point, no, there is no circumstance in which an employee would be directed to stay if he or she is sick.
If an employee is sick, will he or she be required to see a doctor and bring in a doctor’s note certifying that the person does not have the coronavirus or flu?
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other medical professionals have asked citizens to be mindful of not overwhelming already overtaxed medical staff. With that in mind, there is no requirement that an employee bring in note certifying they do not have the virus. However, if an employee does have the virus, he or she will need to be cleared by a doctor to return to work.
Will the Water Authority implement a policy and infrastructure to allow employees to work from home in order to ensure public safety? I understand this is not a solution for all employees but it will be for anyone working in an office.
We have been evaluating the feasibility of this for weeks. We provide an essential product that sustains human life, so we need to do everything we can to ensure as many of our employees as possible are working. If it becomes necessary to do so, we expect that we’ll allow employees to work from home where possible. We are already in the process of testing out work-from-home scenarios.
What is the Authority’s position on employees who have been out of the country or even traveled within the country recently as to their return to work?
SCWA supervisors do not have the authority to ask employees about recent travel. However, for the safety of all, we encourage employees to voluntarily alert Human Resources about recent travel if they feel it’s relevant.
If an employee were to contract the virus and must stay home for any length of time, will the Water Authority require us to use our own time?
Yes, employees will be required to use their accruals.
If someone is mandated to stay home for two weeks, but doesn’t have the sick/vacation time to do so will the Water Authority provide the sick time to cover them?
No, but the federal government is reportedly contemplating stimulus legislation that may include such measures. It’s simply too early to say what provisions any stimulus package may or may not include.
Should we not allow customers in to use our restrooms since they can’t come into the office?
Customers are only allowed to use bathrooms that do not require entrance into a secured area. This means customers may use the bathroom in the common area of the Coram building in front of the counter. SCWA is renting portable toilets and placing them at PC Bayshore, Oakdale, and Westhampton. They will be placed near the location used by delivery companies to deliver goods to SCWA, such as chlorine, lime or pipe fittings so that delivery people don’t need to use a SCWA bathroom.
To avoid everyone getting sick at the same time, can we try having as many employees as possible not come into the offices at all? By utilizing Clevest, we can just work out of our trucks with our computers.
We’re not going to ask employees to not come into offices at all, but we strongly advise employees to avoid congregating in breakout rooms or other work stations whenever possible and, if you are a field worker, to get into vehicles and out into the field as soon as possible.
Are the cleaning people wiping down doorknobs and surfaces with disinfectant?
Yes. Cleaning staff have been advised that we require them to pay special attention to the doorknobs and frequently touched surfaces and to wipe them down each night with disinfectant. But we also encourage all employees to keep their own work spaces disinfected in order to help protect the health of all SCWA employees. We are also using our best judgement in providing disinfectant supplies to office and field staff while ensuring that our supplies last as long as possible until supply keeps up with demand.
At what point should someone decide to stay home? For instance, I felt a little under the weather the past few days and had a few symptoms of sickness.
If you feel sick, you should not come to work, particularly if you are experiencing symptoms the CDC has indicated are associated with the virus, such as fever, shortness of breath or a cough.
If the most common form of infection from COVID-19 is from respiratory droplets spread by a person’s cough or sneeze, why does the CDC not recommend wearing a facemask to protect from COVID-19 and other respiratory diseases?
Here’s how one health expert, Dr. Payal Kohli, answered this question for a news station in Denver: “Surgical masks are not recommended at this time by the CDC to prevent transmission of coronavirus. This is because surgical masks, which are largely ineffective in preventing transmission of COVID-19, are relatively loose-fitting and only protect from large respiratory droplets. They are not effective in filtering or protecting against small respiratory droplets that can carry coronavirus and cause infection. Some experts believe that the masks may actually increase the risk of transmission due to improper use, more frequent touching of your face to reposition the mask and a false sense of security of protection, making it less likely that you would wash your hands.”
What medication is prescribed for an infected person?
According to the CDC, there is no specific antiviral medicine to prevent or treat COVID-19, so treatment currently consists of supportive care to help relieve symptoms and, for severe cases, care to support vital organs.
If you have no symptoms of COVID-19, should you get tested as a precautionary measure? If so, is the test covered by our Empire Plan? Do most doctors have testing supplies? Should we have children tested as well?
If there’s a medical reason for a doctor to request the COVID-19 test, then absolutely SCWA health insurance will cover it. The other questions are more appropriately handled by health professionals. Employees are encouraged to go to www.cdc.gov. The site has comprehensive information, including commonly asked questions, about COVID-19.
If an employee in the office you work in is confirmed with COVID-19, will all employees they work with be quarantined? And if so, will quarantined employees be asked to use their own accruals, or will they receive their salary without having to use accrued time?
Any employee confirmed with COVID-19 will be referred to the Suffolk County Department of Health Services, which will make a determination as to what subsequent steps should be taken to protect the health of other employees. Presently, any employee that may need to be quarantined would be required to use their own accruals, unless funding to cover such employees is approved by the federal or state government.
If someone who works here, or a spouse, or friend, or acquaintance comes in contact with someone that tested positive for COVID-19, what should they do?
Report it to Human Resources. It will be referred to the Suffolk County Department of Health Services for a determination as to how to proceed.
Can COVID-19 traverse our distribution system and if so, what methods are in place that eliminate the threat?
No. SCWA water is disinfected with chlorine at pump stations, and a virus such as COVID-19 would not survive the disinfection process.
Will SCWA have a COVID-19 testing clinic on site for employees, if/when it becomes available?
We do not at this point expect to host an onsite testing clinic for the virus.
Will SCWA have a COVID-19 vaccination clinic on site for employees, if/when it becomes available?
No. We anticipate we will rely on guidance from the New York State Department of Health and Suffolk County Department of Health Services regarding proper vaccination protocol.
If an employee becomes ill, does SCWA have a plan to sanitize the site where they work?
Yes, we will absolutely sanitize work sites at which an employee has become ill from COVID-19.
Is there a “shelter in place” plan for SCWA employees should it become necessary to keep staff on site?
We do have cots, blankets and towels in place for such a contingency, but in such an outbreak as this, health officials would likely be more inclined to have employees isolate from other employees at their homes rather than congregate at a work site overnight.