Officials said area residents who notice others not following COVID-19 guidelines should report them.
The Daily Press was contacted by an individual about a business employee who was positive for the virus and back at work without wearing a face cover.
“Typically, if someone hasn’t been exposed and they’re having symptoms, we’re going to encourage them to stay home. It’s not a requirement if they don’t know they’ve been specifically exposed,” said Kristye Adams, coordinating nursing at the Cherokee County Health Department. “Now if they’ve been exposed, they are required to quarantine. If they have a positive test, they are required to isolate.”
Tahlequah Mayor Sue Catron said intentionally ignoring the risk of COVID-19 isn’t illegal, but the health department needs to be aware of these cases.
“We all know that going to work when you have a contagious disease is a bad idea,” Catron said. “Think about how angry you get when a co-worker insists on working — or is required to work by the employer — when they have a cold or the flu. Now factor in the higher infection rate, hospitalization rate, and death rate of COVID-19. The risk to co-workers just isn't worth it.”
Adams said they have received reports from people who have tested positive and were told to come back to work.
“We follow up with the employer; we print off the guidelines. We’re in touch with them over the phone and emails to let them know what the requirements are,” Adams said. “Unfortunately, we don’t always get those calls. We don’t always know who has returned to work. As more time goes by, it seems more people are getting relaxed about a lot of this.”
Anyone who tests positive is required to isolate for 10 days either beginning the first day of symptoms or the first day of the test, if symptoms aren't present.
“Isolation is, if they live with others in the home, they’re instructed to stay in a room to themselves. Quarantine is you’re just required to stay at home,” Adams said.
The Daily Press was informed of a situation wherein an employee showed symptoms, got tested, and was told to return to work and to don a mask the next day. That employee ended up testing negative.
Catron looked at it the same way as if an employer forced an employee who has the flu to come back to work.
“Their customer base drops for a while. If word gets around that an employee is intentionally working with COVID-19, the customer base may drop for the next six months or longer. The potential loss to the business just isn't worth it, either,” said Catron.
Adams said if employers or others aren’t willing to cooperate, the CCHD's legal advisers will then get involved and issue an order for the person to stay home.
Tahlequah Police Chief Nate King said individuals should contact him after they’ve spoken with the health department. Cherokee County Sheriff Jason Chennault said no one had contacted him with a complaint as of Oct. 23.
“The only time I have had to contact law enforcement is if I have to go out to a house to issue orders. That’s when I would take them with me,” Adams said.
Catron strongly expressed how the neglect of anyone who forces an employee to work while sick is reprehensible and self-serving.
“This is an employer who does not care about their employees or their community. As an employee, I would be looking to change jobs as soon as possible,” Catron said.