Public Library is suspending all of its programs and restricting the use of
Library meeting rooms through April 3 amid fears about the spread of the
novel coronavirus COVID-19.
There are not yet
any confirmed cases of COVID-19 in northwest Indiana as of deadline today,
but WPL is one of numerous local entities implementing social distancing
measures to reduce the potential for spread of the virus.
At this time,
patrons are still welcome to visit the Hageman and Thomas branches and the
Westchester Township History Museum, but all programs are off beginning
immediately until at least April 3. Use of all meeting rooms, including the
Baugher Center, will be suspended until that date as well, according to
Library Director Lisa Stamm.
“I know I am not
alone in that I’ve been losing sleep over this and having constant
conversations with other professionals,” Stamm said. “I do not subscribe to
the hysteria and hyperbole, but I decided I’m pulling all of our programs
and meeting room uses until April 3, just to give it two to three weeks in
the heat of this to see what happens.”
The Board agreed
with the precaution and questioned what WPL’s next steps would be if the
COVID-19 situation worsens or becomes more local to Duneland.
“I would encourage
you to lengthen that period,” Board member Kathy Cochran said, noting a wave
of local university closures and the social proximity problem of people
sitting near each other in libraries.
“I mean, if you
look at the numbers, 25,000 to 30,000 people come through here, and it’s
every variety and age. I think we are more susceptible than the schools to
some degree,” Board Treasurer Drew Rhed said.
Stamm reported she
has no intention to close WPL at this time, but she’s planning for the
logistics of a closure, nonetheless. “I do not want to close the Library,
but of course I will if it’s necessary,” she said. “If we do have to close,
I will do my best to have a crew, if they are well, come in and work even if
the doors are closed.”
business, the Board adopted contingency plans for paying part-time employees
in the event of two different types of closures: a voluntary closure where
WPL would close to the public but still be staffed, and a
government-mandated closure where no one would be working. Full-time
employees will be paid in the event of either closure, but fewer than 20 WPL
employees are full-time.
Rhed was against
paying part-time employees during a government-mandated shutdown where they
wouldn’t be working. “We’re a public entity, but we’re using everybody’s
money. As stewards of that, I find it very difficult to compensate for an
act of God, or whatever you want to call it,” Rhed said.
Vice-president Mike Livovich, on the other hand, advocated for paying
part-timers, citing the hardship they would face from potential weeks of no
pay. “I just think: we have budgeted for that money, and this does not
happen often, in fact, we could stray into hyperbole and say this has never
happened,” he said.
ultimately voted 6 to 1, with Rhed dissenting, to make sure part-time
workers can continue to get paid in the event of both voluntary and
specific decision on voluntary closures: WPL will be closed to the public,
but all WPL employees who are well will be welcome to work as work continues
to be available for up to three weeks. If a voluntary closure stretches
beyond three weeks, available Board members will reevaluate whether or not
to continue paying part-timers.
specific decision on government-mandated shutdowns: all WPL employees, both
full-time and part-time, will be paid for a period of three weeks even if
they do not work. If a government-mandated shutdown lasts more than three
weeks, available Board members will reevaluate whether or not to continue
paying part-time employees.
In either case,
part-time workers who elect not to come in will not be paid for missed
COVID-19 protocols WPL has put in place include ramping up cleaning efforts
and increasing its stock of on-hand cleaning supplies. Staff are being
offered disposable gloves, reminded to wash their hands according to the
proper Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations at
regular intervals during shifts, disinfect common surfaces, use hand
sanitizer and stay home from work if they are sick.
The Board also
approved the following additions to the employee Sick Time Policy at Stamm’s
recommendation: staff are not to come to work if they have common symptoms
of illness such as a fever, coughing, sneezing, runny/stuffy nose or sore
throat/lost voice; staff exhibiting such symptoms may be sent home and
required not to return to work until their symptoms have cleared for 24
hours; staff who are sent home will be required to use available leave,
without pay; staff who are sent home may be asked to provide a doctor’s note
before returning to work.
Stamm noted patrons
who are limiting social outings can still access WPL’s robust online
offerings. “I am doubly glad that our new website is in place, as it makes
it much simpler for patrons to access downloadables and other digital