Swine Flu hitting Jefferson County employees

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - Swine flu may delay a return to full strength for Jefferson County employees. Just as the county looks to begin bringing workers back on the payroll with the new occupational tax in place, the H1N1 virus threatens to hurt those efforts.

Commission President Bettye Fine Collins says the county may be weeks away from beginning a return to full strength, speeding up services, and maybe opening satellite courthouses. But before they can begin bringing back laid off employees, county leaders are concerned about the health of the few who remain, including some who came down with flu-like symptoms this week at time where state health officials are seeing H1N1 cases skyrocket.

"The overwhelming virus circulating in Alabama is H1N1, its almost exclusive," said State Health Director Dr. Don Williamson.  "Individuals who have fly like virus are likely to have H1N1 swine flu as the cause of their illness, routine testing is not necessary."

State health officials are urging local governments and private employers to start looking at backup plans like working from home as a spike in sick leaves follows these cases.

"We ask businesses to begin to put into plan for a lot more absenteeism on the job, how you're going to cover the basics the continuance of operations plans," said Dr. Michael Fleenor, an officer at the Jefferson County Health Department.

For a county already stretched dangerously thin, there are few options.

"What would we do? Well, we would just make it," Commission President Bettye Fine Collins said. "Right now we're to the point that the state department of revenue came to meet with me yesterday, we don't have enough people in the revenue department to collect the taxes. We're down 20 people."

Even though there are qualified workers ready to step in if county employees call in sick, it's not as simple as making a call to fill the sick leave.

"We can't bring them back because we've placed them on administrative leave without pay," Collins said. "It would take time, we would have to approve their coming back."