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Pima County's non-essential employees put on leave during coronavirus outbreak
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Pima County's non-essential employees put on leave during coronavirus outbreak

From the April's Tucson-area coronavirus coverage: 1,200+ Pima County cases, stay-home order extended series

Pima County placed an unspecified number of employees on leave starting April 1 to help reduce the spread of coronavirus.

The decision came after Gov. Doug Ducey issued a stay at home order earlier this week.

“The spread of COVID-19 through Pima County is growing and is beginning to tax our health-care system,” said Pima County Chief Medical Officer Dr. Francisco Garcia. “This decision by Gov. Doug Ducey is necessary and will help slow the spread of this virus in Pima County and Arizona. We must protect our community and health-care system to keep it from becoming overwhelmed. Please, for your health and safety, and the health of your family and our community – stay home.”

In a statement released Tuesday, county officials said a number of nonessential employees will be asked to stay home on leave until the governor’s order is rescinded. These employees are defined by the county as those who do not need to be physically present to perform their job functions.

All employees who are designated as nonessential, and who are unable to telecommute, will be eligible to receive up to 80 hours of paid leave under the county’s pandemic leave policy. Eligible employees will also be able to apply for federal pandemic leave, which would cover an additional 80 hours for anyone who is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, caring for someone in quarantine or caring for a school-age child.

Nonessential employees with children who are impacted by school closures are eligible for up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave through the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act. Under the law, eligible employees can use county and federal pandemic leave for the first 160 hours. The remaining eight weeks of leave offers two-thirds pay, but employees can use their own sick days or vacation time to cover the difference.

“These are some of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make in my more than four decades with Pima County,” said County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry. “But they are necessary. I, and every member of the Board of Supervisors, understand that these actions will cause financial hardships for some employees if this order lasts more than a few weeks. We are doing everything we can to assist our workers through this difficult time.”

The county’s essential employees will continue to work, though the county is allowing as many of them as possible to work from home. Huckelberry has said about 70% of the county’s 7,000 employees are considered essential.

The county defines essential employees as anyone whose function is critical for the effective operation of the county or who must be physically present to perform their jobs, or those employees who are involved in emergency response activities related to the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes the Pima County Sheriff’s Department, the Transportation and Wastewater departments, the Health Department and the Community Services, Employment and Training Department.

With many county employees still required to come to work every day, Huckelberry is also recommending that the Board of Supervisors approve a new wellness initiative that will provide temperature screening at all Pima County facilities. Under the initiative, any staff member or citizen entering a county building would have their temperature checked before being allowed in.

“The purpose of wellness screening is to provide assurance that the workplace is as safe as possible from the COVID-19 virus,” said Huckelberry in a March 31 memo. “These checks reduce the risk of having an employee or member of the public inadvertently spread COVID-19 and provides a measure of security for essential employees who will be required to work during this pandemic outbreak.”

The amendment will be voted on by the Board of Supervisors during an emergency meeting Thursday.

Contact reporter Jasmine Demers at jdemers@tucson.com

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