Jasper Mayor Jan Larson has had it. So have five other city workers. The COVID-19 coronavirus has cost the city 73 working days so far during the pandemic that began last spring.

Larson shared this information with members of the city council Thursday night. The good news is people in the city are beginning to get the vaccine.

The hours lost have been due to the sickness itself as well as quarantines. Larson said the lost time comes in face of precautions that she put in place early in the pandemic and the following of health department safety protocols. The only thing she can think to do next is to mandate city workers get the vaccine or they will have to use personal sick days if they get the virus or have to be quarantined.

At times those available to work were few. Even though most employees are cross-trained to perform different duties, at one point only one person was available to perform mandatory daily work at the waste water plant, the mayor said.

Council members sympathized, but council member Michael Thomas said he thinks there would be legal questions that would have to be answered first. He said he did not think employees should be pressured into taking a vaccine. They may have personal or health reasons why they don't want to take the vaccine. They may be waiting to see if there are side effects or there might be a better vaccine available in the future, he said.

Council member Todd Parker, who is the director of curriculum and professional development for the Jasper School District, said the school board had just adopted a policy governing eligibility and administration of COVID-19 Emergency Leave.

The state set up a fund with money received through the CARES Act that provides two weeks of paid leave for public school teachers and staff if they are unable to work remotely, required to isolate or quarantine, and meet one of several conditions.

The city, however, has not received any money for expenses incurred due to the pandemic.

Council members said they want to promote vaccinations for every one.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced last week that the state was ready to move into two categories of 1-B. Those categories include people ages 70 and over, as well as K-12 and higher education staff and teachers and daycare workers.

Hutchinson said the plan to begin vaccinating those individuals was Monday, Jan. 18. A mass vaccination clinic was held Jan. 20 at Jasper School for school district staff. The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine was administered by nurses from North Arkansas Regional Medical Center. Parker said things went so smoothly that the school offered its facilities for a clinic for people 71 and older.

The council tabled the matter but it will reconsider it as the vaccination phases continue and pending any rule changes put forth by the governor.

Jeff Dezort, Newton County Times editor, has worked at the newspaper since 2001. Before that he was a reporter, photographer and assistant editor of the Harrison Daily Times.

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