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Salisbury City Council will return to virtual meetings, require face masks in city buildings

By Natalie Anderson
natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — With positive cases of COVID-19 on the rise among city employees, Salisbury City Council members on Tuesday agreed to again require face masks in city buildings and move to virtual meetings.

City Manager Lane Bailey told council members the city will be amping up its COVID-19 protocols because he anticipates a spike in the number of emergency paid sick leave days being taken by city employees. He reported 11 employees used emergency paid sick leave in June 2020 because of COVID-19, which grew to 17 employees in July 2020 and 35 in October. Bailey said there were no emergency paid sick leave days taken in June 2021 because of COVID-19, but 14 employees used that leave last month.

Bailey said he discouraged city staff from attending Tuesday’s in-person meeting and required everyone in attendance to wear a face mask. Additionally, while seats were distanced 2 feet apart at the July 20 meeting, seats were spaced at least 6 feet at Tuesday’s meeting.

“If you’re dealing with a spike, it just makes sense to address that,” said council member Brian Miller. “We know (Zoom) works.”

Bailey also said the city is working on ways to incentivize vaccinations. Currently, the city is granting three days of paid leave to employees who turn in their vaccination cards.

Bailey said there is limited data at this time as to how many city employees are vaccinated, but the city is also looking into using some of its share of funds from the federal American Rescue Plan to offer more vaccination incentives, including bonus pay. At Tuesday’s meeting, City Council members formally adopted a resolution to accept a $7.2 million allocation, with the first half to be sent sometime during the current fiscal year. Bailey said more guidance about eligible uses for the funds is expected by September, but staff will bring forward recommendations for the funds as that guidance is clarified. Council members will approve all ARP funds used, he added.

Council member Tamara Sheffield said conducting business virtually didn’t impact the city’s ability to get work done throughout 2020. She jokingly said she looked forward to meeting everyone again within “the Hollywood Squares” in Zoom meetings.

“If you walk in a grocery store or a restaurant … if you have a mask on, or if you’ve had your shot, odds are the two or three people closest to you have not,” said council member David Post. “And that’s scary. It’s all about public safety. Public safety is also spreading a disease.”

Last week, Gov. Roy Cooper strongly urged even vaccinated individuals to mask up when inside. He also issued an executive order directing state government agencies to verify whether their employees are vaccinated and require weekly testing and face masks for unvaccinated employees. As of Tuesday, the rate of adults with the first dose of the vaccine was 34% in Rowan County, with 32% receiving the second dose. Across the state, 50% of North Carolinians have received at least the first dose, while 47% have been fully vaccinated.

Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.

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