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County commission approves pandemic plan

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — Sandoval County has created a pandemic policy in efforts to prepare future county elected officials, staff and volunteers in the eventuality of another outbreak.

Sandoval County Administration Building

The county Emergency Management Policy takes effect Monday, outlining actions to be taken during a health emergency.

Commissioner Jay Block, District 2, at the Sandoval County Commission meeting Thursday night, expressed concern over language that gave the county manager the authority to place more restrictions than the governor, such as travel restrictions.

“The travel restrictions are set by this policy, which refers to the governor’s travel (restrictions), other parts of the policy or other things; the county manager could — after consulting the director of OEM (Sandoval County Office of Emergency Management) — in theory, make something more restrictive than the governor,” said County Attorney Robin Hammer.

The champion of the policy, as county Fire Chief Eric Masterson says, is Emergency Manager Seth Muller.

Muller explained that the vagueness in language was put in on purpose because the pandemic policy is not specific to anything like COVID-19.

He said as different pandemics occur, with guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, state Department of Health and governor, the policy will be in place with the authority to make changes without having to bring every change before the commission.

“I just want to make sure that we are not being too restrictive where we’re limiting people’s movement and their God-given rights to live in this country,” Block said.

He motioned to amend the language so the county manager is to consult not only OEM, but also elected officials. The other commissioners OK’d the change.

After this, the commission unanimously approved the policy.

The policy establishes guidelines for:

• Face coverings,

• Daily wellness screenings,

• Temperature screenings,

• Preference to telework,

• Staggering work schedules,

• Virtual meeting and training,

• Social distancing,

• Limiting common areas,

• Employee training, and

• Plastic or other physical barriers between desks.

A copy of these guidelines must be provided to county personnel along with protocols, according to the policy. Protocols include:

• Procedures for positive tests for the pandemic disease,

• Procedures for work-related exposure to the disease,

• Developing training materials and disseminating information, and

• Continuation of operations and succession plans.

Exceptions to guidelines or protocols have to be approved by the county manager in writing, according to the policy.

The policy outlines four levels in a pandemic, Level 4 meaning normal operations. This level requires OEM to monitor any potential hazards or threats and to plan and train for such hazards, according to the policy.

Level 3 begins to moderate office capacity as the manager believes necessary, requiring social distancing and personal protective equipment of a face covering.

Elected officials or department heads may designate which employees can telework, along with staggering schedules to establish a safe occupancy in a workspace, according to the policy. OEM and risk management will coordinate efforts with the appropriate departments.

The county is operating at Level 2, according to county spokesman Stephen Montoya. This level entails all of the previous level requirements with added PPE, such as gloves.

Level 1 adds limits on essential staff occupying county properties while implementing an order of succession measures. This outlines the chain of command for each officer or department.

This level requires PPE of an N-95 or P100 mask, gown, gloves and face shield. This PPE is to be discarded after one-time use, according to the policy.

“Any employee found to have violated this policy or directives derived therein may be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination of employment or released from probationary or other unclassified/at-will employment status,” states the policy.

The next county commission meeting is June 18 at 4 p.m. via live stream on the county website.



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