Whitman County Gazette - Serving Whitman County since 1877

By Garth Meyer
Whitman County Gazette 

Road department looks to keep snowplow crew free of virus

 

November 19, 2020



COLFAX - With winter coming on, Whitman County Public Works looks to withhold plow drivers from quarantine by keeping crews separated from each other.

If they lose a group at one shop, another crew from another has to fill in.

“If we get hit hard by COVID, how do we keep the plows out?” said Mark Storey, Public Works director. “If we’re down five to ten people, we’re gonna have a hard time keeping the roads cleared. We struggle even when we have all hands on deck.”

Last week, Storey put out a reminder on operational precautions to the roads crew.

“I know some people are fed up with all the restrictions (specifically mask wearing requirements),” he wrote to employees.

Public Works shops act as a work base for a range from two to 20 employees. The main shop near Colfax Airport includes a mechanics crew, bridge crew and a sign crew. Each of these work in separate areas, with doors between. Employees are to maintain social distance as much as possible and wear masks.

All told, Public Works takes care of 3,000 lane miles of road in the winter.

In March, coming out of last winter, when the virus restrictions first came into play, Public Works staggered start times for road workers, such as one employee arriving at a shop first to punch in at 6:20 a.m., the next at 6:30 and the next, 6:40. Then the end of the day was staggered as well, so only one person moved through at a time.

“We’re on that verge of locking things down again,” said Storey.

Another tactic to keep the virus away from plow drivers, when loading rocks or gravel, instead of truck operator hopping out of the truck to use the controls of a front-end loader, the shop foreman does it—so only one person is touching the controls, instead of every truck operator.

Other rules include that if two employees ride in a vehicle together, they must wear masks.

If a worker has a postive COVID-19 test, then all of the crew at the shop may be required to quarantine for 14 days.

“That’s true whether that’s a family member or a co-worker,” Storey said. “But with staggered starts, we stay away from each other, we don’t have to quarantine.”

The department has two men out quarantining now.

“One guy is on his third one,” said Storey. “No symptoms, and he has not been sick once. But that’s the rules, ‘til you get past that incubation period.”

Lost time is covered by a combination of sick-time, CARES Act funding and more.

Storey said no Public Works employee has tested positive that he knows of.

County health protocols call for quarantine if a person who has tested positive has spent 15 minutes or more in close interaction with others.

“So if a crew doesn’t sit around and B.S. every morning and drink coffee before going to their (workspaces), we shouldn’t have a problem,” Storey said. “Winter is when we need everyone at their best, and available.”

Author Bio

Garth Meyer, Reporter

Garth Meyer is a reporter and sports writer at the Whitman County Gazette.

Email: [email protected]
Phone: 5092356184
https://www.facebook.com/WhitmanCountyGazette
Contact Garth Meyer

 

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