Leaders: Stay home if you’re sick

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Dr. Gary Sharp, head of the Hancock County Health Department, said unvaccinated people who have been exposed to the novel coronavirus should enter quarantine for 14 days. That advice follows current CDC guidelines.

GREENFIELD – As COVID-19’s new omicron variant surges around the country, employees should continue to stay home if they’re sick.

That’s the consensus the Hancock County Board of Commissioners reached at their meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 21, when they discussed how employee absences due to positive test results or close contacts with people who have tested positive should be considered.

Dr. Gary Sharp, the head of the county’s health department, said employees who are sick with symptoms of COVID-19 should be advised to stay at home. He said he gives the same advice to employees of private businesses and provides them with a letter to share with their employers stating that they should enter quarantine.

Sharp said he advised that employers should follow current CDC guidance. The agency states that people who have not been fully vaccinated should quarantine for 14 days if they are a close contact of someone who has tested positive (a close contact is someone who’s been within 6 feet of someone for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period).

Fully vaccinated people who are identified as a close contact don’t need to quarantine, unless they have symptoms, but should get a COVID-19 test about a week after exposure to the virus.

Last year, the county began offering employees a 10-day period of paid time off that they could use if they tested positive for COVID-19 or came into close contact with someone who had and needed to be in quarantine. However, that benefit can only be used one time. If employees become ill or are contact-traced repeatedly, they’ll need to dip into their pool of sick leave or vacation days.

Commissioners were reluctant to offer any more time off to employees who needed to be in quarantine.

“There’s got to be some personal responsibility that if you’re sick, don’t come to work,” Commissioner John Jessup said.

Jessup also added that it might be unreasonable to expect people with a cough or other mild symptoms that could be associated with COVID-19 to stay home from work.

Commissioner Bill Spalding said many people were accustomed to a culture in which workers who took sick days were seen as unreliable.

“Now we have to say, ‘Hey, you’ve got sick time, you’ve got to stay home,” he said.

Spalding said that if employees don’t have sick time accrued, they should talk with department heads about alternatives.

Cases of COVID-19 are up in Indiana as the omicron variant becomes the dominant strain of the virus around the country. Officials at Hancock Regional Hospital recently warned that the facility was at capacity. They continue to advise residents to get vaccinated.

Sharp said he expected an increase of cases that would tax the hospital system, adding that he hoped most of the illnesses would not be serious.

With about 40% of Hancock County residents still unvaccinated, Sharp said, those who haven’t received the vaccine should look at how serious many cases of the virus are.

“There’s a real discrepancy in the severity of the illness between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated,” he said.