County Manager Column from Sept. 22, 2020

Follow-up: When COVID comes to your door

Last week, my message was about my own family’s experience with COVID. I shared this in hopes of destigmatizing the experience with the virus and to provide a first-hand perspective for awareness and understanding of the impacts on our workforce. I asked that any employees who were comfortable sharing their experiences to do so as well. Many of you did so. All of these stories provide reference points help us as both a service provider and as an employer to improve our ongoing response to COVID-19. Whether you’ve had COVID or not, or known others who have experienced the virus, I hope that these words from your colleagues help you better understand how this virus is impacting us all.

I would like to thank the many employees and others who responded with sympathy, well-wishes, compassion and stories of their own. Every day of this pandemic, I continue to be humbled and deeply impressed by the compassion and commitment of our employees and our dedication to the community. There were lessons and reminders throughout this feedback that I would like to share with you as well. We are not attributing any of these comments to individual employees and have removed details when necessary to protect anonymity:

I am now [several] weeks out and am now considered a COVID "long-hauler." I am not sure that all supervisors or staff understand...that some of us have continuing complications from COVID. [I would ask that you address this] “long hauler” issue...because some people still don’t understand that this is not like the flu or a cold, when you are done being symptomatic and no longer contagious, there can be ongoing issues...Additionally, I think it would be great to address something to staff about when a co-worker gets COVID. I had to inform someone in another departmentt...as I had been in their office area - six feet apart with a mask on...I was not symptomatic when I went in - we don’t know when or where I got COVID from. Some people treat you like you have the plague or that we were careless and that’s why we got COVID...having some compassion and understanding [is important to tackle] this complex virus that is plaguing our world.

I have a [person close to me] who is considered to be one of the "long-haulers"...I have personal experience witnessing someone suffer from COVID- 19 and see what effects it has. I am discouraged when I go into the office and STILL see people walking on the floor into the kitchen, copy room, public places with NO mask on...I can’t imagine the difficulty in getting everyone on board, but I don’t think anyone should walk around any county building without a mask.

As these employees have referenced, we continue learning more about the experience of "long-haulers" and we’ll address this topic in an upcoming video with our Public Health and Human Resources leaders.

A reminder for all of us: We must do all we can to stay vigilant in upholding our face coverings policy that went into effect in June throughout the entire duration of the pandemic. Along with staying in if you feel sick, hand-washing and distancing, this is one of the essential methods to combat spreading the virus.

I appreciate the point about compassion about understanding in the face of this worldwide crisis. Other employees shared that they may not have had the virus, but they and those close to them may have lost family and friends to COVID-19. Other comments focused on awareness of the experience of refugees and immigrants and our other neighbors who have barriers due to racial and cultural health disparities, language, technology or lack of care. One younger employee shared that they have underlying conditions that put them at high risk. Whether within or outside of our organization, it’s a good reminder that each person we interact with is having their own personal experience during this trying time. Grace and compassion go a long way and would also ask all of us to reference and reflect our values as we continue working through this together as an organization.

I am very concerned about returning to the workplace. We have to rethink our meetings, cube space, people in and out of the office, etc. I do know they are working on those plans, but it is of great concern to those of us who...have already had COVID but still experience symptoms.

This employee expresses a common concern very well. I’d like to reiterate here that the current guidance – which I laid out in this message - will remain in effect through 2020 and we’ll revisit our situation at that time. In the meanwhile, please know that this a continual conversation among county leaders. If you have thoughts and ideas based on your own work situation or work area, please share them with your supervisor.

We...take pride in what we do every day. It can be scary for us, but we use our proper PPE equipment and we will do what we can do to [protect ourselves and do our work effectively]. I have a family at home...and I can’t begin to tell you how many times a day I wash my hands before going home. I worry daily what If I have COVID-19...but fear won’t stop me from providing a clean safe work environment for all.

I’ll sign off with this last comment which underscores the pride and commitment that I see every day across all areas our organization. Despite being a scary time, we are at our best when we’re remaining vigilant and doing everything in our power and roles to reduce risk while still providing public service that helps keep others as safe as we are best able. Thank you for lifting up the voices of our organization, and thank you for being a part of our organization’s response to this global pandemic. Together we will learn, grow, adapt, and most importantly, serve.