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COVID-19 FAQ

Can we prevent someone from coming into the library if they refuse to wear a mask?

First, it is important to know and understand current Executive Orders regarding maks and face coverings. Right now, Executive Order 202.17 is still in effect which states that all people who can medically tolerate a mask/face covering must wear one in public when social distancing is not possible. Therefore, due to the layout and operations of most library facilities, a mask/face covering would be required to enter. But what about when this Executive Order is rolled back? Libraries should assess their facilities, workflow, and staff health and saftey and then decide whether or not to adopt a temporary Code of Conduct requiring masks/face coverings as well as how this mandate will be enforced. With any new policies, there are considerations regarding patron access. WNYLRC's Ask the Lawyer provides more guidance on this topic and taking the proper steps to serve library communities safely and equitably.

How does our System's response compare to the information recently sent by NYLA?

NYLA released an FAQ document relating to libraries and the COVID-19 outbreak. So far, our actions align fairly well with the guidance they offer. The only alternative perspective that our system holds is in regard to the following passage, "As per Executive Order 202.4, public libraries may have more staff in the facility for onsite projects, but only if social distancing guidelines can be achieved."

While it is true that Public Libraries (Municipal, School District, and Special Legislative District) could be viewed in the context of Executive Order 202.4, our System recommends caution before amending your current practices in a way that would allow staff to report to your building for on-site projects. The spirit of the referenced Executive Order was to ensure essential government services continued to operate during this time. Libraries, to our knowledge, were not discussed when developing this order and it would seem counterproductive to the State's efforts to allow staff to return to the library during this crisis. NYLA does not seem to be directly recommending this action, however, we feel it important to offer this opinion as it may be interpreted that way.

What if a vulnerable employee is concerned about returning to work after NY Pause is rolled back?

In keeping in line with the CDC’s recommendations, employers should be as flexible as possible with their sick leave and/or other time off policies. If the employee is considered to be at high risk of severe complications related to contracting COVID-19, there may be an obligation to accommodate if there is some objective evidence(ex: known conditions like chronic heart disease, lung disease, kidney disease, or diabetes) where contraction creates risk of imminent death or serious complications. If you don’t have “objective evidence," it may be worth requesting documentation from the employee’s health care provider which would support the need for the employee to be self-quarantined. This should be treated as any other accommodation request, and your normal process for these requests should be followed. General fear of contracting the virus does not equate to a medical condition that would require an accommodation.

You may wish to consider if the position would be suitable for a work from home arrangement or if the employee has time off that can be applied to the absence. If you can establish that there is no basis for any exposure to the disease and the employee is non-exempt, they do not have to be paid during the time period they refuse to work. Exempt employees must be paid according to the salary basis requirements under federal and state law. However, if an exempt employee performs no work for an entire workweek or if they have exhausted their paid time off, their salary may be reduced for whole day absences. Please note employees should not be disciplined for refusing to work if they believe that there is a risk of infection because making such a complaint may be a protected activity.

These two templates can be used to request documentation from a health care provider:
Reasonable Accommodation Letter Template
Reasonable Accommodation Request Form

What if someone on my staff is diagnosed with COVID-19?

In the event that a library staff member tests positive for COVID-19, contact your county health department for guidance on next steps. Confidentiality of medical information for staff members should be observed in this situation. Visit the NYS Division of Human Rights to learn more about safeguarding employee rights.

Can my library apply for FEMA funding to cover the cost of PPE and other supplies?

Under the President's major disaster declaration for NY, eligible expenditures for activities conducted on or after January 20th related to the COVID-19 pulblic health crisis can be submitted to FEMA for reimbursement. This includes PPE and related equipment. Local governments, school districts, and certain non-profits are eligable to apply. The minimum threshold for applying is $3300. More information can be found in these slides and on the FEMA website.

I heard libraries were included in the CARES Act. Will we get a check?

The $2 trillion dollar CARES Act includes $50 million for IMLS (Institute of Museum and Library Services) to support digital inclusion projects through grants (American Libraries: Federal Relief Package Supports Libraries). Resources highlighted here are directly related to libraries. More information to come.

Can my library apply for Paycheck Protection Program through the CARES Act?

At this time, the first round of money allocated for PPP loans has been exhausted, but libraries that may be eligable should consider applying for the replished funds. Sections of the CARES Act are meant to alleviate revenue loss for small businesses and non-profits during the current shut-down. Public Libraries (School District, Municipal, and Special Legislative District libraries) would most likely not eligible since they would be considered a public entity with a "sustainable funding" measures in place. Association Libraries with an eligible 501c3 status may be eligible for this benefit, however, there may be other restrictions depending on your financial standing. Your best option is to call your bank to discuss the program details. For more information on the program visit the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Are libraries considered an "essential business"?

Based on the Guidance for Executive Order 206.6 (updated April 9, 2020, @ 8am) libraries are not considered an essential business.

Can someone still go to the library to pick up the mail or pay bills?

A single person attending a non-essential closed business temporarily to perform a specific task is permitted so long as they will not be in contact with other people. Read more at Empire State Development (updated April 9, 2020).

What if we are the only employee or work alone? Can we still report to work?

Unfortunately, no. There was an earlier rendition of the Executive Order that could have been interpreted this way, however, it has since been removed meaning that single-occupant, non-essential businesses need to adhere to the 100% working remotely Executive Order. This includes libraries that have only one employee. Read more here.

If I go to the library to perform a specifc task (like paying bills) do I have to wear a mask?

If you will come in contact with anyone while in/at the library or conducting library business, you must wear a mask. Executive Order 202.16, issued on April 12, 2020, provides the following directive: "For all essential businesses or entities, any employees who are present in the workplace shall be provided and shall wear face coverings when in direct contact with customers or members of the public. Businesses must provide, at their expense, such face coverings for their employees. This provision may be enforced by local governments or local law enforcement as if it were an order pursuant to section 12 or 12-b of the Public Health Law. This requirement shall be effective Wednesday, April 15 at 8 p.m." Guidance on this Executive Order can be found here.

Can my Board of Trustees still meet?

Yes. In Governor Cuomo's Executive Order No. 202.1 (issued March 13, 2020), the Open Meetings Law requirements for Board Meetings were temporarily modified so that Boards can meet remotely/virtually. Virtual Board Meetings need to be recorded and transcribed (could be at a later date), and all other provisions of Open Meetings Law must be followed along with posting the meeting link so the public may be able to "listen to or view" the meeting. Meeting minutes are still required and do not count as a transcription of the meeting.

These modifications have been extended through July 6, 2020 in Executive Order 202.38 (issued June 6, 2020).

Pioneer Library System has purchased a second subscription to GoToMeeting which can record and transcribe meetings. Libraries can request to use our GoToMeeting account by emailing Ron Kirsop with the date and time of the meeting. Additional information about the guidelines and tools to use can be found here.

Can a public library still pay staff if the library is closed?

Some libraries may already have “Emergency Closure,” “Quarantine Leave,” and/or “Pandemic Response” policies that address this question. Policies for compensation during times of natural disasters or declared states of emergency can also apply to this situation. If a library does not have such policies in place or the language in the policy is unclear, it is best to consult the library's lawyer before proceeding. More information and resources for libraries looking to answer this question can be found here.

How does a library furlough employees?

When discussing actions concerning employees, be sure to research carefully and keep your policies in mind. Organizations may need to seek legal counsel to ensure that all applicable laws are being followed when taking actions resulting in a furlough or layoff. More information can be found here.

What sort of documentation or tracking should libraries be keeping right now?

Library Directors should document all operational and administrative decisions made during the COVID-19 pandemic including all updates and changes to earlier decisions as the scope of the crisis progressed and changed. Having an accurate timeline will help with future planning (i.e. updating or revising a Pandemic Illness Policy) and will also provide transparency and accountability to the Board of Trustees, the general public, government officials, and other community stakeholders.

It is also strongly recommended that libraries track their virtual and/or online programs offered during these extended closures and any other services being provided (virtual Reference, Readers' Advisory, etc). While these statistics cannot currently be included in the Annual Report to New York State due to Federal definitions of programming and hours open, accounting for these programs and services will provide transparency to the community and governing agencies. These statistics may also aid in future research, long-range planning, and funding requests. More guidance from the New York State Library can be found here.

When can staff begin reporting back to work?

On April1 6, 2020, Governor Cuomo extended the 100% nonessential workforce reduction through May 15. At that time, NYS may either extend or rollback the mandates of Executive Order 202.8.

Can we conduct storytimes online? What about hosting a movie "watch party"?

In response to COVID-19 many authors and publishers have temporarily altered policies to allow for online streaming or video uploads of book readings. However, it is important to note that while copyright restrictions have been eased, there are still some guidelines that must be followed. Information and resources for libraries to evaluate when considering moving to virtual programming can be found here.

Here is the response we received from Swank Movie Licensing USA regarding our licensing and streaming movies: "We understand the need to remain engaged with your patrons and are still trying to come up with any solutions we can offer, but we do have to work within our agreements with the studios. We do not have rebroadcasting or online streaming rights, so, unfortunately, we can’t offer that at this time. We have continuously checked in with our studios for any updates, if we get any new information we will be sure to let you know."

Is it safe to handle library materials?

Isolation of library materials is the "safest thing that we as librarians can do at this time.” This means libraries should stay closed to the public until the risk of public infection is eliminated, and library materials should not enter and exit the building. It is strongly recommended that library closures include restricting access to the libraries' exterior book drops to the public. However, if library staff does come in contact with recently returned library materials, American Libraries offers guidance for disinfecting library books here.

Our library has a construction project about to begin. Can we proceed?

On March 27, 2020, Governor Cuomo updated the "Essential Businesses or Entities" in his Executive Order as it relates to construction and on April 9, 2020, the Empire State Development produced clarifying language (found here: Library Construction During COVID-19). This update bans all non-essential construction except emergency construction (i.e. a project necessary to protect the health and safety of the occupants or to continue a project if it would be unsafe to allow to remain undone until it is safe to shut the site). Fines may be issued for violations. This guidance would seem to include all library construction (unless directly related to health and safety).

We have a vote coming up this Spring. What will happen?

Executive Order 202.15 (issued April 9, 2020) states "Any local official, state official or local government or school, which, by virtue of any law has a public hearing scheduled or otherwise required to take place in April or May of 2020 shall be postponed, until June 1, 2020, without prejudice, however such hearing may continue if the convening public body or official is able to hold the public hearing remotely, through use of telephone conference, video conference, and/or other similar service."

Additionally, "circulation, filing, and collection of any designating petitions, or independent nominating petitions for any office that would otherwise be circulated or filed pursuant to the Election Law, Education Law or any other consolidated law for any office commencing March 31, 2020, are hereby postponed."

Section 8-400 of the Election Law is temporarily suspended and hereby modified so that an absentee ballot can be granted for any election held on or before June 23, 2020. Individual can apply electronically, with no requirement for in-person signature or appearance to be able to access an absentee ballot. Forms to request an absentee ballot can be printed here or completed electronically here.

More information to follow.

How is COVID-19 impacting the 2020 Census?

The U.S. Census Bureau has adjusted 2020 Census operations in order to protect the health and safety of Census employees and the American public. This includes the extension of the Self Response Phase from July 31 to August 17, 2020. More information about changes to the 2020 Census can be found here.

How can the library be better prepared if something like this were to happen again?

Policies and procedures can help prevent outbreak conditions and better prepare the library to respond to crises and possible long-term closures. Library Boards should develop and adopt an Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response Plan (if one does not exist already) and a policy that includes workplace flexibilities and protections during a pandemic. Sample policies and procedures can be found here. Libraries are also encouraged to utilize OSHA's Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19 to help ensure a safe workplace.

Where can I find more resources that would help my library?

The Pioneer Library system has compiled a list of resources in one place to help libraries navigate the circumstances surrounding COVID-19. Topics include Community Health, Public & Mental Health, Families & Caregivers, Professional Resources, Policies & Procedures, Staff Development, and Virtual Programming for Patrons. The full list can be accessed here. You can also access these Resources, Governor Cuomo's Executive Orders, Remote Learning Resources, and the System Response to COVID-19 here.
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