Due to COVID spike, state funds to be used to cover city administrative leave

COVID cases are up 38% from last week, and have risen significantly since mid-December.

An ordinance allowing state grant funds to be used to cover the cost of administrative leave for City of Kenai employees who test positive for COVID-19 has been temporarily enacted, although not formally approved by the Kenai City Council.

At its Wednesday meeting, the council took no formal action on the legislation, but allowed the enactment of the ordinance before its scheduled public hearing because of a spike in new COVID cases.

The ordinance states that COVID emergency funds from the state Department of Health and Social Services can be used for positive city employees isolating away from work in lieu of their personal leave.

Kenai City Manager Paul Ostrander said if a city employee tests positive for COVID, the current policy requires a five-day isolation period and only allows the person to return to work once they’re symptom free. Vaccinated close contacts can come to work masked, but unvaccinated close contacts must also isolate for at least five days.

Ostrander said there had been discussions on whether or not the council could introduce and conduct a public hearing on the ordinance at Wednesday’s meeting to expedite the process, but it was not permitted because the council hadn’t provided enough notice to the public.

“When we originally drafted this, we didn’t think that it was necessary to get this in front of the council for tonight, because at the time, COVID numbers were significantly less than what they are today,” Ostrander said during the Wednesday meeting. “We’re now seeing significantly higher impacts this week.”

According to state data, COVID cases are up 38% from last week, and have risen significantly since mid-December.

Due to the circumstances, Ostrander reiterated that the ordinance should be temporarily enacted before the public hearing.

“I do think it’s necessary to provide this leave immediately to employees to make sure we protect the public health and safety of our employees,” he said. “I’m going to provide administrative leave from now until the hearing date.”

Council members James Baisden and Teea Winger both stated that they’d like to reevaluate the city close contact policy, saying vaccination status shouldn’t affect protocols.

For now, however, the ordinance is being temporarily enacted until it’s up for public hearing on Feb. 3.

For more information or to watch Wednesday’s city council meeting, visit https://www.kenai.city/citycouncil/page/city-council-regular-meeting-75.

Reach reporter Camille Botello at camille.botello@peninsulaclarion.com.