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Nelson Fiscal Court discusses COVID vaccine, county quarantine pay policy

By JIM BROOKS
Nelson County Gazette / WBRT Radio

Tuesday Jan. 19, 2021 — COVID-19 dominated the discussions this morning at Nelson Fiscal Court at the magistrates discussed when local vaccinations will expand to include more people, how those vaccines will be administered, and the county government’s policy regarding paying employees when they are required to quarantine due to a positive COVID test.

VACCINATIONS. During the EMS report at Tuesday’s meeting, several magistrates asked Joe Prewitt, the county’s emergency services director, about the arrival of local vaccinations for additional members of the community.

The vaccine was first offered local to first-responders, front-line workers and medical personnel who were all part of Phase 1A. Several counties have already started offering vaccinations to those over age 70 — but Nelson County has not started doing so.

Prewitt told the magistrates that planning is currently under way to offer vaccinations in Nelson County when the vaccine is available. The problem isn’t being prepared to administer the vaccine, the issue goes back to a lack of vaccine, he told the court.

He said an announcement from the Lincoln Trail District Health Department will be coming soon regarding vaccinations, he said.

Magistrate Gary Coulter asked if there was information on the distribution of vaccine by county. Coulter said he felt like neighboring Hardin County was getting more vaccine than Nelson County. Prewitt told him that the vaccine distribution is based on the population of each county.

Judge Executive Dean Watts said that Hardin County received more vaccine because the county’s population is 2-1/2 times that of Nelson County.

Magistrate Bernard Ice told the court he went to Baptist Health Hardin to get the vaccine because his physician is connected to Baptist Health.

Prewitt said eventually the vaccine will be widely available, but not immediately so. Once vaccine is available, information on how to register will be released. “Right now there’s no vaccine readily available,” he told the court.

FEAR OF THE VACCINATION. Sheriff Ramon Pineiroa said that his courthouse security staff were vaccinated, but the majority of deputies who make up the road patrol declined to get the vaccination. Six out of 24 deputies accepted the vaccination, he said.

Pineiroa said one of his deputies who is trying to start a family said his physician advised against him taking the vaccine, which implied that it could affect his fertility.

Pineiroa said his deputies’ refusal to get the vaccination was frustrating, but he also understood that taking the vaccine was a personal choice. The court’s discussion revealed that the majority of police, EMS employees and other first-responders have declined the vaccine when it was offered to them.

COVID QUARANTINE PAY. Pineiroa asked the court to consider adopting a policy of paying deputies forced to quarantine for their time off work.

Watts told the court that many of the sheriff’s office employees have many hundreds of hours of accrued sick time, and if they test positive for COVID and have to quarantine, they can use of of that sick time.

The magistrates also questioned making special accommodations to pay deputies who quarantine after hearing of deputies who refused to accept the vaccine.

The CARES Act provided money to pay employees who had to quarantine up until Dec. 31st. But since the Act expired, there’s no money to cover quarantined employees. And while many deputies have lots of accrued sick time, others do not.

Prewitt noted that five of the county’s 911 dispatchers were quarantined at one time, and none of those employees have an abundance of accrued sick time. Those without vacation time or sick time would have to have time off without pay and the inability to apply for unemployment.

Magistrate Eric Shelburne said he supported paying all employees who have to take off for quarantine. Pineiroa said that the danger of not paying quarantined employees is that they can continue to come to work if they can’t afford to stay home for the 14-day quarantine period. He recommended the court consider the 911 dispatchers as first-responders.

“If they can’t do their job, the deputies in the field can’t do our jobs,” he said.

Watts and the magistrates agreed to hold a special meeting next Tuesday to discuss the issues and examine the need to change policies.

The company that printed the bulky item pickup postcards will reprint them at no cost to the county. The dates for each phase of the pickup are correct, but the order of the phases is incorrect.

BULKY ITEM CONFUSION. The company that printed the postcards that showed the 2021 bulky item pickup schedule will reprint those cards at no cost after the printer failed to renumber the order in which the pickup areas will be serviced.

As pointed out by the Nelson County Gazette, the postcards had the correct date the county areas will be serviced; however, the phase numbers were not changed to match the change in the pickup order for 2021.

As was the practice last year, the court approved allowing residents early free access to bring their bulky items to the Nelson County Landfill before the pickup’s actual start date. County residents can bring their items to the landfill at no charge starting Wednesday, Jan. 19th.

Magistrate Jeff Lear suggested the county advertise bulky item pickup. Watts said the county was planning radio and newspaper announcements.

In other business, the court:

— reviewed an annual report on the county’s animal services. Fifteen percent of dogs and 44 percent of cats that arrive at the shelter are euthanized. The service transferred 458 dogs and 575 cats to other rescue organizations.

— approved a budget amendment to add unbudgeted revenues to the county’s budget. The amendment included additional state road funding, distilled spirits revenue, CARES Act money and other funds.

— conducted an executive session regarding the sale or acquisition of real estate. No action was taken.

NEXT UP. Nelson Fiscal Court will hold a special meeting at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 26th. via Zoom videoconference.

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