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COVID hits Florida Capitol in DeSantis’ budget office

The Office of Policy and Budget employees who had contact with the person who tested positive “have been instructed to quarantine for 14 days from the date of their last exposure with the individual,."

TALLAHASSEE — Several staff members of the governor’s Office of Policy and Budget were sent home Thursday after a staff member, who had returned to work while sick and coughing, tested positive for COVID-19.

“The employee in question was told not to return to work until they tested negative for COVID-19,‘' said Meredith Beatrice, spokesperson for Gov. Ron DeSantis. “The employee came to work, anyway, and was immediately sent home.”

Beatrice would not say how many people from the Office of Policy and Budget were sent home, but she said that it is the governor’s policy that “employees exposed to a sick co-worker are required to quarantine for 14 days.”

The Office of Policy and Budget employees who had contact with the person who tested positive “have been instructed to quarantine for 14 days from the date of their last exposure with the individual,‘' she said.

“When someone tests positive in a particular office, all employees potentially exposed are sent home and that office is cleaned and sterilized,‘' she said. “Contact tracing is performed and employees who were in contact with the employee who tests positive are required to quarantine for 14 days from the date of their last exposure.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that if a sick employee shows up to work, “employers should not require sick employees to provide a COVID-19 test result or healthcare provider’s note to validate their illness, qualify for sick leave, or return to work.”

DeSantis has not required state employees to wear masks while working, but employees who want to work from home have been told they must use sick leave to do so unless they get approval from a supervisor.

The Office of Policy and Budget is one of the largest divisions in the Executive Office of the Governor and most of the employees work from offices high in the 22-story state Capitol building.

Beatrice did not respond to a request for clarification about whether the employees are required to use their sick leave while they are on quarantine.

“Employees are required to submit tele-work requests on a weekly basis, and those requests are evaluated based on underlying medical conditions,‘' she said.

The governor, who also has refused calls to impose a statewide mask mandate, has recently started suggesting people wear masks as part of the standard protocol for preventing the spread of the cornoavirus. DeSantis has also often chosen not to model wearing a mask when speaking publicly.

“The health, safety and well-being of state employees is our top priority and our office follows the proper guidance issued by the Florida Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,‘' Beatrice said.

Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at meklas@miamiherald.com and @MaryEllenKlas

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