County critical of state actions

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The COVID-19 pandemic once again took up a large chunk of the Monroe County Board meeting Monday morning. 

Monroe County Health Department Administrator John Wagner told commissioners he was concerned with the way the metro east region was defined by Gov. JB Pritzker and the state as part of the coronavirus resurgence mitigation plan.

New restrictions were placed on the seven-county region Tuesday due to a rolling test positivity rate at or above 8 percent for more than three consecutive days. 

“But Monroe County’s numbers for that period are 4.6 percent,” Wagner said. “We have recorded about 350 positive tests during the pandemic – St. Clair County has that many in three days. And we are lumped together.”

Wagner was also critical of the way Gov. Pritzker is characterizing his decision-making process.

“He said he had consulted with county health officers,” Wagner said. “I got three emailed questions and I do not think he read all the answers before he announced his decision.  That’s consultation?”

Concerning the upcoming flu season, Wagner told commissioners some providers are already dispensing the vaccine.

“If the season arrives early, that may help,” he said. “But if the next flu season runs into next spring, the effectiveness of the vaccine, which lasts about six months, will have largely worn off.”

Also at the meeting, Monroe County Clerk Jonathan McLean and Monroe County Human Resources Director Missy Whittington discussed policies for managing Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act sick time and family leave for county employees. 

McLean said the effort was to help prevent misunderstanding or misuse of the rules to compensate employees impacted by the pandemic.

The discussion explored ways to ensure employees are aware of possible symptoms that should cause them to stay home and to document results of their daily arrival time testing for symptoms.  

CARES Act Policy allows employees to receive full pay for up to 80 hours of added COVID sick time in addition to their normal 80 hours of sick leave per year, and to receive two-thirds of regular pay for up to 12 weeks of required family care. 

A potential benefit of thorough documentation was having records in place if the federal government decides in the future to reimburse local governments for such salaries paid.

Treatment of time off required for personnel whose positive tests can be traced back to their work presence or contact with people while working was also discussed.

Procedures for documenting hours worked at home and possibly permitting employees to go into a negative sick pay status of up to 80 hours in a one-year time, to be restored in the following 12 months, were also explored .

In discussing ways to document “work at home” time, McLean told commissioners he found a system for his office through Harrisonville Telephone Company that would enable workers at home to have calls coming to their courthouse desks be transferred to their home computers. There, they could answer as if they were at work or even transfer calls elsewhere in the courthouse phone system.  

The complexities of CARES Act policy matters caused the commissioners to table these issues and direct McLean and Whittington to prepare a formal resolution to be taken up in a special board meeting at 9 a.m. Thursday.

Wagner had strong opinions about the need to document symptoms, noting the annual flu season may not be far off.

“If you are sick, don’t come to work,” he said.

Mail-in voting

In response to last week’s article on mail-in voting, McLean explained to the Republic-Times why some in the county may have received more than one application letter.

“Around 1,400 voters received more than one letter,” McLean said. “Per state law, I was mandated to mail an application to any other mailing address I have on file for a voter. For example, a voter may have a home or condo in Florida where they live during the colder months. I may have the address of the second home or condo on file for that voter.” 

Out of the 1,400 voters who have secondary addresses on file with his office, McLean said around 1,100 secondary addresses were actually the same as the primary voter address but with an abbreviated street address.

“Unfortunately, our election management software does not recognize that ‘Dr.’ is the same as ‘Drive.’ The computer considers the two addresses to be different. By the time the issue was brought to my attention, it was too late for my office to manually remove the duplicates,” McLean said. “However, voters do not need to be concerned about receiving more than one blank application. They can throw away the extra one.”

Other news

Oak Hill Senior Living & Rehabilitation Director Brian Koontz noted a facility wide test for COVID-19 – staff and residents – yielded only one staff person positive. That person was told to quarantine at home. 

“The staff is doing a tremendous job,” he said.  

He noted total capacity for Oak Hill was occupied at an overall rate of 92.2 percent.  That includes maintaining an unused six- room 12-bed capability to quarantine any resident testing positive. None of that capacity has been employed to date. 

With Aug. 18 marking the 100th anniversary of ratification of the 19th Amendment codifying the right of women to vote in all elections, the Monroe County Board approved a proclamation celebrating this advancement of women’s rights. Illinois was the seventh state to ratify this amendment. 

Most appropriately, the proclamation was read by Commissioner Vicki Koerber, the first woman elected to serve as a county commissioner.

Commissioner Dennis Knobloch presented a plan to develop a countywide hazardous waste collection to be held at the Monroe County Fairgrounds this coming spring. More details will be forthcoming.

Monroe County Ambulance Service Director Carla Heise received approval to replace two aging monitors used to monitor heart functions in patients at a cost of $65,412.14.

The next Monroe County Board meeting will be at 8:15 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 8, due to the first Monday of the month being Labor Day.

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