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County erring on the side of safety

Commission sets instructions for employees during COVID-19

By Anna Jauhola

The Kittson County Board of Commissioners is erring on the side of safety and made a strong decision Tuesday, March 17 to keep two county employees at home, with pay. This was the main decision of the board’s initial discussions regarding pandemic planning. 

The two employees had traveled recently to areas where the coronavirus, known as COVID-19, has been diagnosed. The county department heads attended the meeting and some questioned the commissioners on the fairness of sending these two home with pay and making those possibly affected in the future use their own leave or take unpaid leave. 

After an hour and a half of “talking in a circle,” Commission Chair Theresia Gillie passionately ground the meeting to a halt. 

“We are going to err on the side of safety,” she said. “This is the lesser of two evils and this time you’re going to just have to suck it up. So you, as department heads, it is your job to be the water calmers in this. Sometimes we have to be more diligent about the citizens of our county than what we are getting paid today.” 

The board approved the mandate to keep the two employees at home, with pay, and set several other instructions into effect. The board stressed the situation is ever-changing and these instructions may be altered as needed: 

  • Employees who need to care for ill children or family, who are without daycare due to this pandemic, or don’t want to risk exposure will be treated as though they are self-quarantined and can take personal leave. 
  • Moving forward, anyone who has traveled via mass transit, the board will request they self-quarantine for 14 days, but cannot require it. If they choose to self-quarantine, those people can take paid leave. For people who traveled otherwise, there are no restrictions at this time. 
  • If a department head determines an ill employee can work from home, and there is work to be done, the county will set that up. Those employees would be accountable to their department heads and have to prove they’re being productive. All others who department heads determine it’s not possible to work from home, they have the choice to work from the courthouse or take personal time. 
  • The board advises against travel out of the area, but cannot restrict employees’ travel.
  • All offices will remain open and manned by at least one person with a rotating schedule. 
  • If directed by the state government, the county will close down the courthouse. But as of this time, the courthouse remains open and operating normally.

The board will meet in a special session to further discuss employee concerns on Friday, March 27 at 1 p.m. in the upstairs meeting room at the Kittson County Courthouse in Hallock. This is due to the social distancing recommendations from the county public health office and the Minnesota Department of Health. 

The board also approved having weekly commission meetings throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, which will be each Tuesday at 9 a.m. at the courthouse. 

Continue to look for updates on throughout the week and in the weekly Kittson County Enterprise print edition.

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