After NBC 5 Inquiry, City of Chicago Issues Coronavirus Guidelines For Employees

The letter from Mayor Lightfoot comes one day after a city spokesman acknowledged no communiques had been transmitted to employees on how they could guard against the illness

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Just one day after NBC 5 began asking questions about why the City of Chicago had issued no precautions or guidelines to its employees concerning the coronavirus, the city provided some guidelines Wednesday in a letter signed personally by Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

“It is important that you are aware of City policies that are in place,” the mayor wrote. “And that you have the necessary information and guidance both for you as individuals, and for stakeholder groups with whom you intersect.”

Earlier on Wednesday, NBC 5 reported some employees were complaining about a lack of city guidance on the illness. One employee noted of a lack of supplies, and the fact that restrooms in their department did not even have paper towels, forcing workers to use toilet paper to dry their hands.

The mayor’s letter advised that “at this moment, the immediate risk to the general public in Chicago remains low,” and was accompanied by two fact sheets on the illness, including a prevention checklist.

It advised employees to clean their hands often with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, or to wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds (It did not address what employees should do if they encounter a lack of supplies in their work areas).

With flu season well upon us, and concerns over the coronavirus growing, NBC 5’s Lauren Petty visited Northwestern Hospital and talked to Dr. Igor Koralnik. Koralnik shows us the right way to get your hands clean in 60 seconds.

“If you are sick, stay home unless you are seeking medical care,” the letter advises. “If you’re not familiar with your department’s sick leave policy, please talk to your supervisor or HR representative.”

The advisory asked employees to clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces, but said no special sanitizing processes beyond routine cleaning are necessary or recommended to slow the spread of respiratory illness.

“Here in Chicago, we have already been working for months to prepare for this situation,” the mayor said, “and will continue to remain vigilant and work to protect our residents while we monitor national and international developments closely.”

The accompanying fact sheet noted the Chicago Department of Public Health does not recommend that people who are well wear a face mask to protect themselves. 

“Face masks can be used by people who show symptoms of COVID-19 to help prevent the spread of the disease to others,” the document states. “The use of face masks is also crucial for health workers and people who are taking care of someone with suspected COVID-19 in close settings.”

The mayor’s letter also asked employees to remember that “viruses do not target people from specific populations, ethnicities, or racial backgrounds.”

Responding to a request from NBC 5, a city spokesman also released a letter which was circulated Tuesday, outlining new guidelines for international travel by city employees.

“Any City of Chicago employee who is traveling internationally on behalf of the City of Chicago is required to determine whether the destination is listed on the CDC’s Geographic Risk Assessment for COVID-19 Transmission list both prior to booking the trip and the day prior to departure,” the letter warns. “If the country is listed as a Travel Alert Level 1, 2, or 3, the travel must be cancelled.”

That travel policy further states that any employee returning from a country listed on the CDC’s Risk Assessment must notify their immediate supervisor prior to returning to work, and that any employee returning from a country classified at Travel Alert Level 3 should stay home and monitor their health for 14 days. As of Tuesday, that advisory covered travel to China, Iran, South Korea, and Italy.

Employees staying away from their city offices under that provision were advised to work from home if possible, use any combination of sick-pay, vacation, or absent excused time. They are also advised to take their temperature with a thermometer two times a day, and to seek medical treatment if they develop a cough or fever above 100.4 degrees.

The travel letter advised employees that until further notice, no City of Chicago employee travel would be permitted to the Level 3 countries, or to Japan or Hong Kong. 

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