By Tom Henderson • Staff Writer • 

Mac prepares for city staff to work from home

At least 50 McMinnville city employees could immediately be equipped with laptops and mobile devices that would allow them to work from home if they are quarantined because of the coronavirus.

Another 25 or so computers could be borrowed from various departments, Information Systems Director Scott Burke told city councilors on March 10.

Should the coronavirus situation seriously deplete the city’s at-the-office ranks, he said he could probably find another dozen loaner computers.

“We’re pretty confident that we have the hardware we need,” Burke said. “We have the tools we need in place. It’s just a matter of what comes down. Our staff is ready. We’re geared up and ready to respond.”

Finance Director Jennifer Cueller-Smith said her department is also braced for the virus. “The finance department is gearing up to be able to work from home,” she said, adding, “We’re also prepping for myriad scenarios.”

Fire Chief Rich Leipfert told councilors that his firefighters have adopted Oregon Health Authority protocols for screening 911 calls.

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“When police and fire are responding to a home of someone who potentially has signs and symptoms that meet the criteria of OHA, we can have that information before we walk into the building,” Leipfert said.

They are also prepared to don appropriate personal protective equipment to “protect ourselves as we move forward,” he said.

In the face of the global pandemic, Leipert said firefighters operate under exotic disease protocols. The procedures outline how sites are disinfected, what gear to wear and what questions to ask patients.

The protocols keep changing, Leipfert said. People calling for ambulance are now asked more questions about their recent international travels as well as whether they have tested positive for the flu.

Ambulance crews and paramedics who deal with patients suspected of having the coronavirus will be taken to Station 12, a house the fire department rents off Baker Creek Road.

Leipfert said the station has decontamination equipment and also provides crews a place to stay until they’re cleared to leave by public health authorities.

The station keeps infected personnel away from the main headquarters. “We don’t want to contaminate the entire fire station and all of our fire resources,” Leipfert said.

He told councilors his department can respond to the virus as it escalates. “With an emergency declaration, we can modify staffing arrangements and do what we need to do to try and keep units on the street and service to our citizens,” he said.

Oregon Department of Human Services officials announced Monday, March 9, that they have created an oversight team of more than 70 people to review illness-prevention practices at all Oregon care centers starting immediately.

McMinnville has approximately two dozen care homes with 1,093 residents — representing approximately 3% of the local population.

City officials receive regular communiques from the state and county health officials, as well as updates from city department heads, Mayor Scott Hill said.

He said most of that information is posted on the city’s website “so people can go in and see how involved the city is in protecting our citizens to the best that we can.”

Councilor Sal Peralta said he would like to see city employees working from home as much as possible.

“A lot of the advice I’m seeing from the CDC [Centers for Disease Control] and the World Health Organization related to the coronavirus suggests that nonessential employees work remotely when possible,” Peralta said. 

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