COVID-19 Update
January 26, 2020

Revised Return To Work Protocols for Personnel in Clinical and Direct Care 
On January 7, the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) issued an update to their "Protocols for Personnel in Healthcare and Other Direct Care Settings to Return to Work." The NYSDOH protocols are very restrictive and, in some circumstances, require Health Commissioner approval prior to implementation. This guidance created significant confusion among the local health departments (LHDs). Some LHDs were directing that our employees were subject to a mandatory quarantine period of ten (10) days without exception following exposure to COVID-19. We have been communicating this confusion to The Office for People With Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) over the past few weeks and they have been advising that our Chapters continue to follow the November 16, 2020 "Protocols for Personnel in Clinical and Direct Care Settings to Return to Work." We have successfully partnered on a few cases resulting in LHDs allowing asymptomatic close contact employees to return prior to 10 days. During recent weeks, OPWDD shared that they were working closely with the NYSDOH to evaluate appropriate protocols given the statewide surge in COVID-19 cases.

On January 22, OPWDD published "Revised Protocols for Personnel in Clinical and Direct Care Settings to Return to Work." This document includes important revisions to the November 16, 2020 protocols. Most notably, asymptomatic staff who have been exposed to a confirmed case of COVID-19 (i.e., a close contact) cannot return to work prior to ten (10) days unless there is a staffing shortage at the site. Chapters intending to return close-contact employees to work prior to the completion of the 10-day quarantine period must submit an attestation form to OPWDD. This form must be submitted by the Chapter Executive Director or designee before the protocol is implemented, however OPWDD approval is not required prior to moving forward. A single form can be submitted for multiple sites where staffing shortages require the return to work of close-contact employees. As this form is intended to attest to efforts made to staff the locations prior to implementing the protocol, we recommend that the attestation lists only those locations where the protocol is critically needed.

Another noteworthy change pertains to employees with confirmed or suspected COVID-19. OPWDD is no longer able to grant approval for these employees to return to work prior to 10 days following illness onset. Although this may be considered an additional burden, we are grateful that OPWDD listened to our feedback and advocated with DOH for this allowance, given the significant hurdles we are experiencing with staffing. As you know, the DOH general return to work guidance includes no such exception.
Guidance on Use of COVID-19 Sick Leave
In addition to the above-referenced new guidance from OPWDD, on January 20, 2021 the New York State Department of Labor (NYSDOL) published updated guidance on the use of COVID-19 Sick Leave. This guidance is intended to supplement the prior guidance from Department of Labor and will apply to those employees to whom the OPWDD guidance does not. Highlights of this guidance are as follows:
  • An employee who returns to work following a mandatory quarantine or isolation period does not need to be tested before returning to work unless they work in a nursing home. However, if they subsequently receive a positive test result, they must not return to work and will be deemed subject to a mandatory order of isolation from the Department of Heath, whether or not they have already received sick leave for the first period of quarantine or isolation. This employee must submit documentation of their positive test result, unless the employer administered the test. 
  • An employee who is subject to an order of quarantine but continues to test positive after the end of such quarantine period must not return to work. This employee shall be deemed subject to a second mandatory isolation order from the Department of Heath and entitled to a second period of COVID-19 sick leave. This employee must submit documentation of their positive test result, unless the employer administered the test.
  • If an employer mandates that an employee who is not otherwise subject to a mandatory or precautionary order of quarantine or isolation remain out of work, the employer shall continue to pay the employee at their regular rate of pay until the employer permits the employee to return to work or they become subject to a mandatory or precautionary order of quarantine. 
  • Employees can qualify for COVID-19 sick leave for no more than three orders of quarantine. The second and third orders must be based on a positive test result in accordance with the above.
Most notably, under this most recent guidance, employees may qualify for COVID-19 Sick Leave with documentation from a medical provider or testing facility indicating a positive COVID-19 test result in lieu of a mandatory order of quarantine from the Department of Health or other government entity. We encourage all Chapters to review current employees out of work for reasons related to COVID-19 to determine if they are now eligible for COVID-19 Sick Leave.
Advocacy on Vaccine Administration Concerns 
On January 16, The Arc New York, New York Alliance for Inclusion & Innovation and NYSID partnered to send a letter to Governor Cuomo urging him to maintain proper vaccine allocation for 1A population, which includes individuals with I/DD living in congregate settings and their staff. This letter was shared in our January 21 Advocacy Update. Later that evening, the Times Union ran a story titled, "Disabled being 'elbowed aside' as doses shifted to mass-vaccination sites." 

Yesterday, a coalition of provider associations, including The Arc New York, submitted a second letter to Governor Cuomo, sounding the alarm about the state's failure to include the I/DD population in recent DOH guidance and the executive order regarding vaccines issued on January 23.  

Senator Neil D. Breslin and Assembly Members John McDonald, Patricia Fahy, and Carrie Woerner wrote to Governor Cuomo echoing the same concerns regarding the new executive order. A copy of that letter can be found here, along with a story in New York State of Politics. 

We continue to advocate on this issue to ensure our staff and the people we support have priority access to vaccination, as promised in New York's vaccination plan. 

The Arc US Plain Language COVID-19 Videos  
The Arc of The US has created a series of plain-language video guides for COVID-19 for disability advocates. The videos explain the coronavirus pandemic and how it is affecting daily life. Topics include: 
  • What is COVID-19?
  • How is coronavirus affecting people with disabilities?
  • Supports for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities during the coronavirus
  • Wearing masks to help prevent the spread of coronavirus
  • What's next? Getting back to normal after COVID-19
The videos can be found hereWe hope these tools can be used as a resource when educating employees about the COVID-19 vaccination

This and all related updates will be cataloged on The Arc New York COVID-19 Resource Page for future reference. Please contact us if you have questions regarding any of this information. 

Josh Christiana, Director for Quality, Compliance & Chapter Relations

This email was sent to:
  • President Jack Kowalczyk 
  • Board of Governors 
  • Chapter Presidents
  • Executive Directors 
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  • Joint Committee on Quality & Compliance 
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