By Terrance Hand, Easton Firefighter and City Resident
Submitted to Northampton County Council May 7, 2020
Easton, PA – Last night I watched the Northampton County Council meeting because I was concerned by news of the County Executive’s plans to have staff return to work in the Human Services work spaces.
I am a firefighter for the City of Easton, and my wife is an employee of Children and Youth. And your proposals stand to have profound effects on my family and others throughout the county.
The accepted best practices to be part of our solution include “Work from home if you can” not “Go to work if you can work for home.”
To date, no employee of the County Department of Human Services has been infected with COVID19. The mitigation efforts outlined nationally and within the state to socially distance and telework have thus far been 100% effective for the agency.
Currently, cases and loss of life are still on a disparaging increase nationally and throughout the county. On April 1, 2020 3,800 lives were lost to the virus in the United States. In 30 days, on April 30th, the country’s loss of life had increased to 61,300 (57,500 people in 30 days), as I write this, the disease has claimed 76,000 Americans — 15,000 souls in the last eight days. Americans are dying at a rate of almost 2,000 people a day.
We are in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic’s devastation. This is a time when we all should be steadfast in our efforts to keep the rate of infection down, with the goal of lowering the serious effects of the virus.
We have watched as this pandemic has removed two naval ships from service, incapacitated meat processing plants, devastated senior care facilities, infected world leaders; it has sickened Charlie Dent and his wife, more than 400 residents of the city of Easton, and in the last two days has spread to the close staff members of the President and Vice President of the United States.
The President’s guidelines state that we should continue to “ENCOURAGE TELEWORK, whenever possible and feasible with business operations, Minimize NON-ESSENTIAL TRAVEL, and SCHOOLS AND ORGANIZED YOUTH ACTIVITIES (e.g., daycare, camp) that are currently closed should remain closed.” https://www.whitehouse.gov/openingamerica/
And the Governor’s guidelines call for “Life Sustaining Businesses Only” and that “Telework Must Continue Where Feasible.” https://www.governor.pa.gov/process-to-reopen-pennsylvania/
The plans to return DHS workers to their office spaces are counterintuitive to our country’s massive sacrifices to weather this crisis. Bringing people into a shared workspace only increases the likelihood of spread. Sending children that are safe at home to day care only increases the likelihood of spread.
You are purposefully creating unnecessary in-person interactions that greatly increase the chance of virus transmission. The DHS employees will spend the days talking on the phone and sharing elevators, stairwells, and restrooms. Face coverings are only intended to reduce the concentration of droplets in an environment. Multiple people in a room for an extended amount of time talking (not even sneezing or coughing) increases both concentration and duration of exposure to other people’s virus carrying emissions. Restrooms will be a natural point of vulnerability.
Sending children out of the home at this time only serves to create more virus vectors that will spread the infection to their homes and ultimately through their communities. And that is going on the assumption that the young are not in danger of becoming seriously ill after contracting COVID19. An assumption that is irresponsible and reckless, especially now with the recent development worldwide of a pediatric syndrome linked to the virus.
At last night’s meeting Councilman Myers asked Ms. Wandalowski what precautions were to be used for workers visiting homes. Ms. Wandalowski replied that she was supplying N95 masks for home visits.
N95 masks alone are NOT the required personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect a person from virus contraction or contamination. N95 masks must be used with eye protection (face shields and goggles — NOT GLASSES). Gloves and gowns are also protocol. Eyes need to be protected because any droplets that can get in your nose or mouth will almost certainly get in the eyes. Lack of removable protective garments will allow a person to carry the virus on their clothing from the environment and into vehicles and buildings. Employees must also be trained in the proper donning and doffing of PPE.
Easton Firefighters do not enter COVID19 environments or interview patients without full PPE, and neither should anyone else.
During this crisis people have been forced into unemployment and earnestly asked to stay at home. The costs are devastatingly high. Grocery workers, truckers, police, firefighters, nurses and doctors — we all go to work so that people can stay home. Stay home until we make significant gains on this crisis. The accepted best practices to be part of our solution include “WORK FROM HOME IF YOU CAN” not “Go to work if you can work for home.”
Good leadership during life threatening crisis demands prudent decision making that is focused on preserving life. The county’s proposals DO NOT support our state and national struggle. If these policies create ANY virus infections or casualties this administration will be accountable. Sending people back into an office building and adding children to the daycare population during the rise of pandemic infections is NOT THE MOST RESPONSIBLE DECISION that can be made, and it flies in the face of the sacrifices of the millions of unemployed and frontline workers.