Hudson County family services employees seeking stricter COVID-19 protocols

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Several Hudson County Division of Family Services employees are seeking stricter COVID-19 protocols since cases at the Hudson County Plaza building are on the rise.

Hudson County Department of Family Services. Photo via foodstampoffices.org.

By John Heinis/Hudson County View

“I’m not asking them to shut the building down completely, I just want them to shut down and clean like they’re supposed to,” Keshawna Hammond, a general assistant for the county’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), said this evening.

“There was someone that tested positive on the floor I currently work on and they closed one side of the building: why not shut the whole floor down and have professionals come in and fog the place?”

Emails forwarded to HCV indicate that at least five employees have tested positive for COVID-19 since November 12th.

Two of the three emails tell employees to advise their supervisors if they’re experiencing any coronavirus symptoms and/or getting tested so that their work areas can be “sanitized promptly.”

While last week’s freeholder meeting revolved around activists calling for a halt to the county’s decades-long contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, there were a few county workers from family services who expressed concerns over COVID-19.

During the public portion, Ada Wideman spoke and questioned what the county’s policy is on personal emergency leave due to rising coronavirus cases at the Department of Welfare and Social Services before discussing other work place problems.

“You would think it would be coming from clients, but we don’t see clients, so it’s the workers that are bringing the virus within the agency. Now, the reason why they’re bringing it in the agency is because we’re not provided with those PPE days,” she said.

” … Each employee is provided with 14 PPE days in the event that they get sick, or they go out the country, according to CDC and county policy, you are to quarantine. Once you get your test back negative, you can return to work with a doctor’s note. Well under those conditions a lot of us have not been receiving of PPE days.”

She continued that she is owed nine emergency leave days and hasn’t received them after two to three months of inquiries, noting that many employees aren’t even aware the emergency days exist.

Wideman also asked how much hazard pay Hudson County received from the federal government, whether it be from CARES Act or elsewhere.

Jersey City Freeholder Bill O’Dea (D-2) responded that Wideman would have all of her concerns addressed at their next meeting, though added he didn’t believe the county received any funding specifically earmarked to hazard pay to date.

Additionally, Sabura Alexander, who identified herself as supervisor for family services and  a representative for Local 1697, was adamant that county directors weren’t immediately disclosing when workers test positive.

“We now have currently heard of, as of today, there have been nine cases of employees – because there as no public coming into the building – testing positive for COVID-19,” she exclaimed.

” … What the county is not doing, in terms of management, Elenor Gibney, Roger Quintana, Bob Knapp, Bob Martinovich: they are not telling the workers, we’re hearing from word of mouth. They are not cleaning the building the way they should, the temperature scanners are not working, the big machine they paid so much money for is not working.”

She further stated that she had to file a grievance after 60 days in order to get her emergency leave days, claiming that county officials, including O’Dea, did not respond to her emails – which he apologized for.

During an appearance on HCV Live and Uncut this afternoon, O’Dea said that the second wave is here and the county needs to take it seriously.

“All I would say is it’s an ongoing concern. I would say that never more than two days go by when I don’t see an email that tells me one person, maybe two people in that building are testing positive [for COVID],” he began.

” … The second wave’s here: let’s not sugar coat it. So it’s an issue, the county needs to stay on top of how they address it. We need to be sensitive to employees.”

O’Dea continued that any employee that is deemed at high risk of contacting the coronavirus should have the ability to work from home indefinitely without any negative consequences.

A county spokesman did not return an email seeking comment.

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