For more news about the COVID-19 coronavirus, access the News Tribune Health section.
It is not yet clear how much of a toll COVID-19 might take on Missouri's state government workforce, but the state has given the option for its employees to "borrow" leave time they may not otherwise have available.
There has been at least one incident so far of concern about possible exposure to the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19; a person who worked in the Harry S. Truman Building had been tested, but that test came back negative, Sarah Steelman, commissioner of the state's Office of Administration, said in a news release Wednesday.
Before that test had come back negative, the possibility of an infected person having been in the building prompted disinfection cleaning of an office suite and regularly scheduled cleaning at other buildings in the Jefferson City area, at least for the next month.
Under leave guidance sent Monday from Steelman to all state departmental employees, a state team member who tests negative for COVID-19 "cannot return to work until their fever has reduced below 100.4 degrees for 24 hours after they have stopped taking fever-reducing medicines. In this circumstance, team members should use their available leave.
"If the team member does not have any sick leave, the team member shall be authorized to use borrowed leave for the absence rather than taking annual leave, comp time, or leave without pay."
State team members who have pending COVID-19 test results were to be instructed not to report to work while the results would be pending. Any worker who tests positive would be asked to stay home until a note is provided from a doctor authorizing a return to work, and that note would also have to include the worker had two negative test results for COVID-19 taken at least 24 hours apart.
The Monday guidance expanded upon earlier information sent out March 12 from OA, which defined borrowed leave as to be "made available to team members without accumulated sick leave for use only in the circumstances identified above. A maximum of 140 hours of borrowed leave can be approved. Borrowed leave will be repaid from sick leave, beginning when the team member returns to work, at their normal rate of accrual for sick leave."
It was not immediately known, as of publication time, whether any additional guidance had been sent to state workers since Monday.
"Upon returning to work, all of the accruing sick leave would go towards repaying any borrowed leave," OA spokesman Chris Moreland said March 13. "However, the employee has the option to use any comp time or annual leave that they have accrued before tapping into borrowed leave. If someone gets sick in the future and they are out of sick leave, they can still use their annual leave or, if they have it, comp time. Employees repaying borrowed leave will still be accruing annual leave."
The Monday guidance gave an update to how borrowed leave would be repaid: "At the team member's option, borrowed leave may be repaid from annual leave or comp time, in addition to sick leave."
The Monday guidance also appeared to slightly loosen the previous 140-hour limit on borrowed leave.
Instead of a 140-hour maximum, it said a worker's human resources staff should contact the worker to confirm borrowed leave would still be "appropriate to use after each usage of 140 hours of borrowed leave" for one or more listed reasons: being sick; waiting on COVID-19 test results; testing positive for the disease; testing negative for the disease; and/or having a member of their household who is sick.
State workers who "feel sick or who develop a cough and/or shortness of breath" were to be instructed to take their temperature twice a day, and if a fever of 100.4 or more would develop, workers were not to return to work until the fever would drop below that level for 24 hours after stopping to take fever-reducing medicines.
If a worker has a spouse, child, other relative or household member who is sick, under the aforementioned definition of the 100.4-degree fever, and who requires the worker's "personal care and attention," the worker would be able to use sick leave.
If sick leave would not be available, then borrowed leave would be an option, instead of annual leave, comp time or leave without pay.
In all of the above-listed circumstances surrounding illness, supervisors could also request authorization through division directors for a worker to work from home, if the worker's duties could be performed from home and the worker would feel able or be able in light of responsibilities to care for other household members.
State workers staying home to care for children or adults let out of school, child care or adult care facilities were to be instructed to use annual and sick leave, with the other option of comp time. Borrowed leave would be an option if no sick leave would be available.
However, borrowed leave under that circumstance was only to be allowed after options of expanding hours or allowing flexible schedules, telecommuting and job-sharing or job-splitting would have already been ruled out by a worker's supervisor.
Documentation would be required to show evidence to HR staff of the closing of a school, child care center or other such facility — and that would have to be provided to HR every 14 days during the use of borrowed leave.
The best advice for state workers with questions is to contact their agency's HR staff, as was advised in the Monday guidance on leave.
"We will monitor the progression of the outbreak and issue additional or different guidance or directives as may become necessary," the guidance added.
In terms of social distancing measures, Gov. Mike Parson on Thursday said all 16 state executive departments have been working to implement specific plans, including following public health experts' guidance.
"Different departments have to work in different ways to deliver to our citizens, but the steps already taken include altering shift schedules, job-sharing and increased telework. We have canceled large group training and conferences," Parson said.
"Many departments are applying for waivers from the federal government so they can operate in new ways also," he added, though he did not immediately elaborate.
He added residents should do what they can to avoid coming in person to state offices as much as possible, and expect delays, interruptions or changes in services as state departments continue to adapt.
"That said, the state government will continue to provide essential services for our citizens and do whatever possible to assist in the fighting of COVID-19," Parson said.