CATSKILL — Greene County lawmakers discussed a drafted policy for county employees who take personal, out-of-state trips to states designated as high risk for COVID-19.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Govs. Phil Murphy, D-N.J.; and Ned Lamont, D-Conn., issued a tri-state order at midnight June 25 mandating a 14-day self-quarantine for travelers who fly or arrive in New York, New Jersey or Connecticut from states with more than a 10% positive coronavirus test rate, or a positive test rating higher than 10 per 100,000 residents over a seven-day average.
The states affected by this travel mandate doubled Tuesday to include a total of 16 states: California, Georgia, Iowa, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah and Texas.
Greene County Administrator Shaun Groden presented a draft of a policy for county employees planning to take out-of-state trips to the Legislature on Wednesday. The policy was created in collaboration with other counties, Groden said, some of which have more aggressive policies, and others have more lenient policies.
“I tried to shoot in the middle,” Groden said.
For example, Warren County’s policy is much stricter, Groden said, where a county employee with a planned vacation to a high-risk state may be denied the vacation.
“We’re not czars,” Legislator Thomas Hobart, R-Coxsackie, said. “All we can do is make recommendations. We’re not in ‘Cuomograd’ or Stalingrad.”
Warren County Administrator Ryan Moore said Warren County’s policy took effect last Thursday, when Cuomo first announced the out-of-state travel guidance.
“We don’t have a lot of time to debate those policies,” Moore said.
In Warren County, department heads have been instructed to not approve vacation time in high-risk states, Moore said.
“Employees are instructed to tell their department heads where they are going when they submit their request for time off,” Moore said.
If any employee has traveled to a high-risk area, the department heads must contact the public health department, Moore said.
Employees that are quarantined due to traveling to high-risk states for vacation or other non-essential reasons must use their personal or vacation time, or go off the payroll, Moore said. Cuomo’s mandate makes those on this type of quarantine ineligible to paid sick leave, Moore added.
Greene County’s proposed policy requires that if an employee travels to a high-risk state for leisure or any other non-work related reason, the 14-day quarantine time must come from the employee’s vacation or personal days.
“A one week vacation could become three weeks without that employee,” Legislature Chairman Patrick Linger, R-New Baltimore said.
Some employees are able to work from home, Patricia Handel, R-Durham noted.
“What do we do with a dispatcher or a deputy?” Groden said. “We can’t have them work from home.”
Another issue is that the list of high-risk states is always changing and a state may be not be considered high-risk when someone leaves for their vacation but during the vacation the metrics may change, Groden said.
These types of situations will come up, Linger said.
Groden agreed, saying that the county has 500 employees and the summer is when many take their vacations.
Warren County has already had residents come home from vacation in a high-risk state carrying the virus, Moore said.
“The last thing anyone wants is another government rule but with this one the message is simple: be smart before you go on vacation,” he said. “It’s important, as we saw yesterday. That’s how these outbreaks start.”
Three Warren County residents returned home from Florida on two different flights and were positive for COVID-19, Moore said.
Warren County public health officials and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention worked with the airlines to track down others who were exposed on the flights, he said.
Linger felt the governor’s policy was aimed more at people traveling into New York, he said.
“It doesn’t speak to New Yorkers who went somewhere else and are coming back home,” he said.
Legislator William Lawrence, R-Cairo, asked about how testing results affect the quarantine requirement.
“If [upon their return] they are negative [for the virus], does it override the governor’s 14-day quarantine?” Lawrence said.
Groden replied the quarantine would still be in effect, regardless of the test result. The requirements are different for essential workers, he added.
Legislator Michael Bulich, R-Catskill, called the policy idiotic.
“So essential workers can come back to an essential department and infect the department?” he said.
“What if they don’t tell you where they’ve been?” Lawrence said.
Groden acknowledged this is a possibility.
“So we’re not going to ask?” Lawrence said.
“No, we are,” Groden replied.
Some employees may face situations where they don’t have enough vacation or personal days to cover the quarantine, Groden said.