A discussion about Fort Wayne's COVID-19 employee and operations policy briefly devolved into a shouting match Tuesday between two City Council members.
The issue that sparked the heated confrontation related to the amount of time city employees are required to quarantine after being exposed to or contracting COVID-19.
It was the council's first meeting in a month.
During Tuesday's meeting, Councilman Paul Ensley, R-1st, was selected to serve as the council president for 2021. Councilman Russ Jehl, R-2nd, will serve as vice president this year. Both were elected in 5-4 votes along party lines.
The policy approved Tuesday in an 8-1 vote is a modified version of the policy implemented last year, said Laura Helmkamp, the city's benefits manager.
The city will still offer paid emergency sick leave as provided under the federal Families First Coronavirus Relief Act, but it applies only for employees that have not used all of the 80 hours provided under the act.
“This policy does not provide any additional leave to those employees that have exhausted the benefit provided under (the federal law), and it also does not continue any paid leave for child care needs related to the closing of schools or daycares due to COVID,” Helmkamp said.
Employees who did not use all of their emergency sick leave last year would be able to use the remaining balance this year.
Helmkamp said she has processed more than 500 pandemic-related leave requests since the pandemic started. The coronavirus positivity rate among city employees is more than 9%, she added.
Helmkamp also asked that the policy be retroactive to Jan. 1 to cover employees currently suffering from COVID.
Employees that have exhausted their emergency sick leave can use accrued sick time, Helmkamp said. Once they use up that time, employees will be granted an unpaid leave of absence. Employees who test positive may also use short-term disability, if they qualify, she added.
The discussion about quarantine durations touched a nerve with some council members.
The 2020 policy stated employees should quarantine 14 days, but Councilman Jason Arp, R-4th, favored reducing that requirement to 10 days. Arp said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now requires a 10-day quarantine instead of two weeks.
“The CDC guidelines are 10 days, which is a material difference from 14 days,” he said. “Which would be a big saving not only to us but to employees who are being forced to stay home.”
According to the CDC website, the agency recommends a 14-day quarantine but states that it may be possible to shorten the duration “based on local circumstances and resources.”
The Allen County Department of Health still recommends a quarantine period of 14 days.
Arp was the only council member to vote against the policy.
Carol Helton, the city's attorney, said the city is following the best scientific recommendations from local health officials.
Councilman Glynn Hines, D-at large, described Arp as a person who does not believe in masks and attempted to ask Helton whether the city is liable or could take action against employees that fail to comply with pandemic mask policies.
Hines described anti-maskers as “ignorant-type people that don't think they should mask up and want to jeopardize the health of other people,” before he was cut off by Arp loudly demanding a point of order.
“I will not be called ignorant,” he said in a raised voice.
In response, Hines said he feels it's clear Arp is ignorant.
Arp attempted to interject again before Councilman Tom Didier, R-3rd, who was leading the discussion, demanded order.
“Guys, come on,” Didier said. “Guys, get back to what we're talking about.”