Fulton County’s hazard pay policy for employees working on the front lines in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic doesn’t help enough workers, some residents have said.
“I’ve received 50 to 100 complaints about the policy not covering enough employees,” District 5 Commissioner Marvin Arrington Jr. said.
At its May 20 recess meeting, the Fulton Board of Commissioners voted 6-1, with Arrington dissenting, to approve extending the policy for two more weeks but establishing an end date of June 15, 60 days after it was passed. But the meeting also included a long discussion about which workers should get hazard pay and which ones shouldn’t.
At its April 15 recess meeting, the board voted 7-0 to approve $750 each in hazard pay for 1,600 front-line employees from March 18 through May 31, unless the virus crisis ends sooner. The county originally was going to provide $500 in hazard pay, the same the city of Atlanta passed for its front-line workers, but increased it by 50% after board Chair Robb Pitts requested it.
The extra pay means the total cost for Fulton is about $3.6 million, up from about $2.8 million, Sharon Whitmore, Fulton’s chief financial officer, said at the April 15 meeting. At the May 20 meeting, two information technology department employees were among the five residents to speak during the public comment portion asked why they weren’t included in the hazard pay policy.
“We’re the ones setting up desktops, cell phones, laptops, etc.,” Roderick Franklin said. “We’re the ones who get most or all of you squared away with Zoom. We are the ones who have to go to the 170 county buildings. Now we’ve done all this without hazard pay. With essential employees, it makes common sense that law enforcement is essential, but what about all the (IT) department employees?”
When asked by commissioners why some employees, including the IT department ones, weren’t included, Chief Human Resources Officer Ken Hermon said, “They did not meet our definition of reporting essential functions or employees interacting daily with the general public.”
However, 1,820 employees are now eligible for and receiving hazard pay, and 2,400 were originally considered. County Attorney Patrise Perkins-Hooker said about 100 sheriff’s office employees who originally were not included in the group of Fulton workers that received hazard pay were added because the county was not aware of their status as front-line staff.
In voting no, Arrington said, “If we just matched Atlanta’s $500, we could have paid more people.”
Pitts and District 6 Commissioner Joe Carn said they were voting yes so they wouldn’t hold up the process, but recommended the county look at possibly including more employees in the program.
In other coronavirus-related news, Fulton officials said the county was expected to reach the 100,000-person mark on the number of residents tested overall for the virus after the 97,678th test was administered May 18.
“I would assume today we’ll go over 100,000 tests, and our mobile spots will go over the 100,000 mark tomorrow,” said Doug Schuster of Emergency Management Services International (EMSI), an emergency management firm working the county. However, that’s only a tenth of Fulton’s goal of testing all 1 million residents.
Dr. Lynn Paxton, director of the Fulton Board of Health, said the county’s testing success stems from adding both regular and mobile testing sites, plus other private ones run by companies such as CVS.
“As has already been mentioned, we have (a new site at) 265 Boulevard and it’s going gangbusters,” she said, adding the county’s three regular sites are in the south, central and north portions of Fulton. “… Our mobile units are hugely popular. With access to the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Emergency Response Act) funding, our goal is to acquire at least two more mobile units now. We would hope they would be used for other conditions in the future like diabetes screening and hypertension screening.”
Paxton said the county plans to shift employees to more testing positions once the National Guard, which has handled some of those duties, demobilizes, a move expected at month’s end.
But some jobs Fulton workers are doing may become obsolete with the onset of a new test-scheduling mobile app that’s already been successfully piloted in the county’s District 4, she said. A second app for contact tracing is also expected to help in Fulton’s fight against COVID-19, Paxton added.