Opening of City Offices
COOP Leadership – I have amended here and updated the email I sent just over a week ago. I am now convinced more than before that we need to prepare to reopen under the assumption that COVID-19 is here at least until this Fall and Winter. I am convinced that this pandemic is a longer duration event during which we cannot simply close to the public for a short term until it passes. Instead we need to adjust how we do business so that we are able to provide city services and continue city operations in an altered form for an extended period of time. And we need to adjust in doing this in a manner that keeps all of us as safe as possible.
As I stated in the email on Tuesday May 5th, as a municipal government entity, we have been exempted from Governor Sununu’s “Stay At Home” executive orders. In fact, some municipal offices around the state never closed. We have simply closed our facilities to the public as a best practice in an effort to keep city staff as well as our residents that much safer during the COVID-19 crisis.
However, with Governor Sununu’s updated guidance issued Friday May 1st, he is slowly moving the state out of the Stay at Home phase. As a result, we will begin to proactively do the same. To this end, we will adopt and adapt Governor’s Sununu’s specific guidance for “Retail” as we re-open our facilities to the public.
The Revenue Building offices of the Tax Collector and Assessing will re-open on Wednesday, May 27th. The City Hall offices of City Clerk and Welfare will re-open Tuesday, June 2nd. All other City Hall offices will be staffed and available to other city departments also on June 2nd and to the public by appointment.
For all other city departments, please submit to me no later than Wednesday, May 20th the date you will be staffed and re-open your offices/ facilities to other departments and the public along with a brief description of what this will look like based upon the “Safeguarding Guidance” provided below. I will share these with the EOC personnel and seek their guidance. My goal is to have all offices/ facilities staffed and re-opened no later than Wednesday, June 8th and all staff back working their full hours.
I realize (1) that some staff fall in to the health related “high risk” category, (2) that some office settings may be very difficult to adjust in a manner that is COVID-19 “hardened” and (3) that your ability to open under the guidance listed below is largely dependent upon the availability of PPE for staff, our ability to clean and sanitize work & public spaces, training of staff in best practices, signage, modification of work spaces and public reception areas – these all factor in. The EOC and Public Buildings Department are prepared to support you in all of these areas to the fullest extent possible. If you are not able to meet the deadline dates stipulated above, please notify me as soon as possible.
I have purposely avoided the requirement that the public be mandated to wear masks while accessing city facilities. We will not be making this a requirement of the public. However, I realize that some offices are either (1) not high traffic/ high profile public facing offices and/or (2) are physically small in size thus making social distancing or the erection of plexiglass barriers problematic. These two possibilities make it sometimes not feasible or simply difficult to create COVID-19 hardened work spaces. In these situations, the requirement to pre-arrange appointments and/ or the mandatory wearing of masks may be the only option to keep our staff safe. If you feel you have these circumstances, design your re-opening plan accordingly and include a description in what you send to me.
In addition, I have purposely not stipulated the requirement to take employee temperatures at the start of each work period. I am not precluding this requirement either. I will leave this up to individual department heads. However, the taking of temperatures is suggested for those essential service functions in which multiple staff work in close proximity and a mass quarantine situation would cripple our ability to provide essential services.
Once again, I would re-iterate that these plans and approaches to re-opening should be viewed as a longer term strategy. We could be operating under these strictures for the foreseeable future.
Safeguarding Guidance adapted from “Stay at Home 2.0”:
The Governor’s Economic Re-Opening Task Force recommends protocols for safeguarding all New Hampshire businesses and individuals during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. The policies & procedures stipulated below are based on what is currently known about COVID-19 and is intended to protect city personnel as well as the public’s health and allow us to re-open for business.
The intent of these recommendations is to reduce transmission of COVID-19 among employees and customers; support healthy city operations; and maintain a healthy work environment. In addition these stipulations are intended to maintain strict adherence to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidance, and US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the State of New Hampshire recommended policies and procedures … all intended to protect our customers and employees.
These guidelines apply until further notice to all city offices as we re-open to the public.
All offices will operate in accordance with the following guidelines.
1. All staff must wear face coverings at all times when in city offices, public spaces or shared staff areas (e.g. break rooms), even if other individuals are not immediately present.
2. The city’s EOC will provide training to the department head or his/ her designated “safety liaison” in each department on face coverings based on CDC guidance. Each department head/ safety liaison will then share that training with their respective departments.
3. People wearing face coverings must not touch their eyes, nose, mouth, or face, or adjust their facemask without first sanitizing hands. After touching face or adjusting mask, hands must be sanitized again.
4. Alcohol-based hand sanitizer will be made readily available for both staff and customers at entrances and exits, at service counter locations, and in staff breakrooms and other commonly used staff areas.
5. Departments will stagger shifts, breaks, and meals, in compliance with wage and hour laws and CBA provisions to maintain social distancing.
6. The City’s EOC will provide regular updates and training for department heads/ safety liaisons about personal COVID-19 mitigation and safeguards based on CDC guidelines.
7. All employees are required to report any symptoms of COVID-19 or close contact to a person with COVID-19 to their supervisor.
8. Staff must be screened for symptoms of COVID-19 before each shift by filling out and signing an EOC developed questionnaire. Staff with any symptoms will not be allowed to work.
9. Staff should be instructed to maintain a distance of at least 6 feet from others (staff and customers) if possible at all times. Supervisors will prohibit congregating in break rooms or common areas and limit capacity of such areas to allow for safe social distancing of at least 6 feet whenever possible.
10. Supervisors will restrict interaction between employees and outside visitors or delivery drivers; implement touchless receiving practices if possible.
1. Each department will develop a process for limiting the number of customers inside a reception area at a given time, excluding employees and representatives of third-party delivery companies, based upon CDC social distancing guidelines.
2. Each department will ensure any waiting line has demarcations spacing customers at least 6 feet apart.
3. Customers will be encouraged to wear face coverings at all times when inside a city building. Signage will be placed requesting this of customers before customers enter.
4. Department heads should consider dedicated hours or appointment times for the elderly and medically vulnerable persons.
5. If feasible and reasonable, establish one-way aisles and traffic patterns for social distancing.
6. Where appropriate and possible, implement pay-ahead and curbside pickup and/or delivery service options to minimize contact and maintain social distancing.
7. Assign a dedicated staff person (i.e. a safety liaison) to monitor social distancing and compliance with protective actions, and to prompt customers and other staff about the importance of social distancing, hand hygiene, and use of face coverings. The department head/ safety liaison designee will be the EOC’s main point of contact for COVID-19 related issues and the department head/ safety liaison designee will be granted direct contact privileges with the EOC on COVID-19 related issues.
8. Add COVID-19 precautions and social distancing reminder signage in key areas such as service counters.
Business Process Adaptations:
1. Establish enhanced cleaning protocols that follow CDC guidance relating to cleaning and disinfection for COVID-19. This includes cleaning and disinfecting shared resources and frequently touched surfaces every two hours. Service counters will be wiped down and cleaned between each customer.
2. When possible, use a clearly designated entrance and a separate clearly designated exit to maintain social distancing.
4. Erect plastic shields or plexiglass barriers between customers and clerks at service counters and clean them frequently.
5. Adjust office hours as needed to allow time for enhanced cleaning.
6.Task management-level & supervisory employees to monitor compliance.
Once we are re-opened to the public, I anticipate a period in which we will be making adjustments and refining our procedures and processes. If at any time a department head/ supervisor/ safety liaison feels there is a weakness in our safety procedures or a breach to our safety measures, that person has the authority to close that office to the public (and to other departments) and consult with the City’s Health Officer. Re-opening will occur only after the Health Officer is able to assess the situation and remedial action deemed necessary is carried out.
Blaine M. Cox
Rochester, New Hampshire