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COVID-19 Operations and Mitigation Plan

The purpose of this policy is to protect the health and safety of the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) staff reporting to the office and maintain continuity of DEC operations by ensuring compliance with COVID-19 health precautions. DEC prioritizes the safety of worker health and safety during the pandemic by maximizing telework to the greatest extent possible. However, the Department recognizes that not all employees are able to remote work full-time. The following guidance will be used by all DEC staff working in office spaces, except for staff at the Environmental Health Lab, which has its own operating plan based on unique business needs.

DEC provides essential services to the State of Alaska and therefore staff are considered critical workforce under the Essential Government Functions clause of Alaska Essential Services and Critical Workforce Infrastructure Order1.

DEC will follow local public health guidelines/mandates, unless otherwise directed by DHSS or the Office of the Governor. Divisions will incorporate the following social distancing standards, occupancy/capacity limits and guidelines, provide for hand washing, face-coverings, employee education, and enact response guidelines for ill employees.

Essential Functions/In Office Functions

Essential functions are defined within an employee’s position description (PD). Please use the Online Position Description2 to review employee PDs. Essential functions are the duties that are essential to fulfill the mission of the Department, Division, and work unit. DEC will carefully consider which positions have duties that can only be performed in the office before requiring those employees to return to the work site full-time or episodically. DEC will continue to explore and promote all possible options to expand telework to accomplish state business. However it is recognized that some positions may require a staff presence in the office/worksite, and/or a hybrid of the two working models.

Divisions that have a business need for staff to return to the office/worksite should use a phased approach for employees to return. The phased approach should ensure that applicable safety objectives stated in this document are met, including but not limited to the need for and access to cleaning supplies, face coverings, or other equipment.

Employees in the workplace are required to comply with all safety and health practices and standards, including requirements that employees do not knowingly expose coworkers or the public to conditions that would jeopardize their health or the health of others.

Physical Distancing for Employees and Visitors

Employees and visitors are required to comply with all social distancing requirements, for example, by maintaining 6-feet of distance while riding in elevators or talking to others in the workplace, or using face coverings.

Prior to staff returning to the worksite, DEC Building Services and Division Directors or their designees may implement practical measures for workspaces (particularly cubicles and other open floor plans) to facilitate physical distancing of 6-feet apart. Social distancing may also be achieved by staggering work schedules of employees who work near each other.

Employees should avoid gatherings of any size in the workplace by taking shifts to eat meals, perform activities, or take breaks. When two or more people must meet in person, they will maintain physical distancing if possible or use face coverings.

To achieve physical distancing the following methods should be applied:

  • The use of face coverings in any smaller, common use, and high-trafficked areas (including elevators, restrooms, and common areas of buildings like lobbies and hallways)
  • Reducing the number of employees, customers, and business partners at the worksite at a given time
  • Controlling movement through common areas, elevators, stairwells, bathrooms, kitchens, and other limited space areas to maintain social distancing standards
  • Increasing physical space in office spaces and providing flexible meeting options (video- or phone-based meetings)
  • For visitors in state facilities, visual prompts in public-facing facilities should be displayed to help remind members of the public to maintain 6-feet of distance from employees and each other while waiting in lines and/ or to wear a face covering

Further guidance on social distancing and other safety procedures is available on the Reopen Alaska Responsibly3 page, including specific guidance available for the current phase III/IV of reopening4.

If physical distancing is not possible, the Division Director or their designee will work with DEC Building Services to establish engineering controls to maintain safety, such as Plexiglas walls. The Division Directors or their designees should take measures to communicate the current mask policy inside state buildings to employees and visitors and assist managers in enforcing that policy.

DEC offices should prominently display physical distancing posters throughout the worksite.

Face Coverings

Per the July 22, 2020 memo from Governor Dunleavy:

"All employees, contractors, and visitors to State of Alaska facilities must wear a face mask if social distancing of at least 6-feet or more between individuals cannot be maintained. This applies to entryways, hallways, stairwells, elevators, enclosed parking areas, and personal offices where a 6-foot distance cannot be exercised."*

*Alternatives to this mandate may be possible for members of public accessing state programs or services who are unable to wear a mask due to a condition or impairment that prevents them from safely or properly wearing a mask and for young children. In these cases, managers should seek alternative preventive measures. State employees with a condition or impairment that preclude the wearing of cloth face coverings should consult with their managers or human resources. Additionally, Division and Department Title I and Title II ADA Coordinators as well as the State ADA Coordinator5 are available for assistance.

DEC will provide face masks to employees and visitors who do not have them. DEC requires all staff and visitors to wear a face mask when in the office and to social distance when wearing a face mask is not feasible. Please contact DEC Building Services if additional face masks for staff are needed.

Employees conducting inspections and fieldwork will wear a cloth face mask in accordance with the DEC Procedures for Inspections and Fieldwork during COVID–196.

If employees are not following the face mask policy, please contact DEC Human Resources to discuss the situation.

DEC should prominently display face covering posters7 throughout the worksite.

Handwashing

DEC Building Services will ensure employees have access to hand washing supplies and hand sanitizer in the work site. Employees will be advised to frequently wash their hands, particularly before and after all client or visitor interactions, before and after going to the bathroom, before and after eating, and after coughing, sneezing, or blowing their nose.

DEC Building Services will ensure hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies are available throughout the worksite location and replenish hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies frequently. In particular, there should be handwashing or hand sanitizing supplies in the immediate area of any break room, water cooler, coffee or other drinks area, in vehicles, and other shared areas where employees eat or drink. Cleaning supplies should be immediately available next to shared microwaves and other kitchen equipment.

DEC should prominently display handwashing posters7 throughout the worksite.

Employee COVID Precaution Education

Division Directors or their designees will provide basic information regarding safety guidelines for returning to the office/work site and about COVID-19, including but not limited to the following:

  • Employees must be aware of the signs, symptoms and risk factors associated with the COVID-19 illness. This information is available on the CDC and DHSS website. In particular, employees should be reminded that fever, cough, shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, loss of smell, and loss of taste are common symptoms of COVID-19.
  • Employees are asked to voluntarily pre-screen (self-check) for illness prior to entering state facilities. Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus and may range from mild to severe. The CDC provides a list of possible COVID-19 symptoms and a self-check tool for individuals8, and general information on protecting oneself and others9. Many questions surrounding employee illness are also discussed in this CDC FAQ10 for general business operations.
  • Employees are required to stay home or go home if they feel or appear ill.
  • Employees must become familiar with measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 while at work, including by taking steps in the workplace to establish social distancing, frequent handwashing, and other precautions. Managers must enforce these policies.
  • Employees must be aware of the importance of hand washing and how to effectively wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Employees must be aware of proper respiratory etiquette, including covering coughs and sneezes, and not touching eyes, noses, or mouths with unwashed hands or gloves.
  • Employees must be aware of the requirement for employees and visitors to wear a face covering if social distancing of at least 6-feet between individuals cannot be maintained, including but not limited to common areas.
  • Employees must be aware of the importance of frequently cleaning and disinfecting commonly touched objects and surfaces such as work stations, keyboards, telephones, machines, and doorknobs.
  • Employees must be aware of where to access necessary disinfectant and cleaning supplies for their workstations.

More posters regarding COVID-19 precautions7

Screening Employees

Employees are asked to voluntarily pre-screen (self-check) for illness prior to entering state facilities. Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus and may range from mild to severe. The CDC provides a list of possible COVID-19 symptoms and a self-check tool for individuals8.

A worksite may require pre-screening of employees prior to entry. The Division Director or their designee will work with Human Resources to make that determination.

Pre-screening should be used when work requires high-contact (less than 6-feet distancing) or congregate settings, such as employees traveling to remote locations or communities with limited healthcare facilities. Pre-screening can be a useful tool to help minimize the spread of COVID-19. An example is taking steps to avoid introducing COVID-19 to high risk individuals living in high risk environments, as found in remote communities. For additional travel-related mitigation procedures see Procedures for Inspections and Fieldwork during COVID–196.

When an Employee Tests Positive or has Potentially been Exposed

Based on OSHA recommendations, DEC requests that employees inform their supervisor if they have been exposed or tested positive for COVID-19 so that the department can take steps, such as cleaning and disinfection, to protect other workers. DEC will follow the DOA COVID-19 Notification Plan18. This document is frequently updated to include the most current guidance from the CDC.

An employee who has been exposed or tested positive for COVID-19 is encouraged to provide notifications to close contacts within the work environment. Department officials cannot share the name of the employee who tested positive, has symptoms, or has been exposed with other staff in the office.

If the Division Director or their designee determines an employee should not report to or be permitted to remain on the work site, the employer should engage in a telephonic conversation with the employee and determine if telework options are available. Telework options should be the priority. DEC will exhaust telework options for an employee before requiring the employee to take leave.

If telework options are available and the employee can perform those duties, the employer should send the employee home to telework.

If there are no telework options, DEC HR staff will be consulted on how to proceed. If the employee is subsequently diagnosed with the COVID-19 virus, the agency should advise the employee about other state and federal leave options that are available, depending on the circumstances. See the State of Alaska COVID-19 Leave Policy11, the Employee Verification for paid leave due to COVID-1912, and the Family First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) FAQ13.

If the employee is a close contact to a known person with COVID-19, as defined by public health14, they must quarantine based on current state guidance15.

Testing Employees

Currently, the state only requires testing of employees working in assisted living facilities and employees working on state ferries. If state employees would like to be tested, they should contact their health care provider or local hospital to determine whether a test is indicated. COVID-19 testing sites in Alaska16

Additional Resources

Division Directors or their designees should become familiar with Alaska’s COVID Conscious Business Toolkit17. These materials were developed in a collaborative process with other agencies and organizations, including the Department of Commerce, Community & Economic Development. The toolkit supports Alaska businesses in promoting specific precautions, such as physical distancing and mask wearing, and many of the resources are easily transferrable for use in our facilities. Signs, flyers, and digital graphics to improve employee knowledge on COVID-19 symptoms, promote social distancing, and support mask wearing are available to download.

Questions?

For questions regarding this return to work plan, or to modify this plan to fit your division needs, please contact DEC Human Resources Manager Brian Blessington at brian.blessington@alaska.gov or 907-419-7354.

Sources

  • 1https://gov.alaska.gov/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/Alaska-Essential-Services-and-Critical-Workforce-Infrastructure-Formerly-Attachment-A-05.05.2020.pdf
  • 2http://doa.alaska.gov/dop/classification/opdOverview/
  • 3https://covid19.alaska.gov/reopen/
  • 4https://covid19.alaska.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/05212020-Phase-III-IV-Guidance.pdf
  • 5https://doa.alaska.gov/ada/documents/dept-ada-coordinators.pdf
  • 6https://dec.alaska.gov/commish/disaster-recovery/covid-19-containment-guidance/procedures-for-inspections-and-fieldwork-during-covid-19/
  • 7http://dhss.alaska.gov/dph/Epi/id/Pages/COVID-19/business.aspx
  • 8https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/symptoms-testing/symptoms.html
  • 9https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/prevention.html
  • 10https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/general-business-faq.html
  • 11https://doa.alaska.gov/dop/fileadmin/DirectorsOffice/COVID19messages/COVID_19_LEAVE_Policy.pdf
  • 12https://powerforms.docusign.net/12a66400-7636-41b3-b92f-cb39da31f5ef?env=na3-eu1&acct=e5e3e0d2-7e93-4fa5-866b-10e6f016a39e
  • 13http://doa.alaska.gov/dop/fileadmin/DirectorsOffice/COVID19messages/FFCRA_FAQ.pdf
  • 14https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/php/contact-tracing/contact-tracing-plan/appendix.html#contact
  • 15http://dhss.alaska.gov/dph/Epi/id/Pages/COVID-19/exposed.aspx#duration
  • 16https://coronavirus-response-alaska-dhss.hub.arcgis.com/app/2d92b77bc8044329a1ee3954b063bd8c
  • 17http://dhss.alaska.gov/dph/epi/id/pages/COVID-19/business.aspx?fbclid=IwAR1vXy4W3Kns8qdVKpUkRipVbatQZqujncYIX7KXjVgs4wALmbTC5Yhe76E
  • 18http://doa.alaska.gov/dop/fileadmin/DirectorsOffice/COVID19messages/DOA_COVID_Notification_Plan.pdf

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