Chesterton Tribune



Westchester Library suspends programs in COVID 19 precaution

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The Westchester 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.”

In related 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.

Board 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.

The Board 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 government-mandated shutdowns.

The Board’s 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.

The Board’s 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 shifts.

Other precautionary 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 resources.”


Posted 3/13/2010





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