NEW YORK — As New York City continues to see progress in its battle against COVID-19, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced City employees will return to in-person work in May.
Beginning May 3, City employees who have been working from home will head back to their offices.
“We need our city workers back in offices where they can do the most to help their fellow New Yorkers, and it’s also going to send a powerful message about this city moving forward,” Mayor de Blasio said.
Strict safety measures, including social distancing and ventilation systems, will be implemented, according to the mayor.
About 80% of city employees have been working at their worksites. The May 3 return will mostly consist of people who work in office settings that have been working remotely.
When asked if they are facing hesitancy among city employees receiving the vaccine, the mayor said his administration is working with a “healthy and safety first” perspective and understands not everyone will be vaccinated right away.
To ensure safety, the city will be implementing staggered schedules and have some people working from the office while others work from home, according to Deputy Mayor of Operations Laura Anglin.
Anglin said they intend to help employees who need to navigate around their child’s in-person and remote learning for schools as well.
“We’re going to bring back the workforce, which I think is going to help improve the impact for all New Yorkers, but do it in a way that’s safe,” the mayor said.
Henry Garrido, executive director of District Council 37 — New York City’s largest municipal labor union — said union members have serious concerns.
“I think there’s legitimate fear amongst city workers, who have been asked to come back without reassurances that the place they’re coming back to is safe,” said Garrido.
The union represents 150,000 city workers, including 100,000 workers deemed “essential” during the pandemic.
More than 200 members of DC37 have died from COVID-19. About 50,000 in the union will have to return to work in city agencies on May 3 – just six weeks from now.
“I would like to see partitions being installed wherever necessary and want to make sure facilities are sanitized that there’s proper air ventilation,” said Garrido.
Only 20 percent of their total members have been vaccinated. They’re taking matters into their own hands and have organized a mass vaccination event.
“We are making an effort as a union to help them now to get the vaccine schedule,” said Garrido. “We have a plan for Citi Field this Saturday where we’re going to vaccinate as many people as possible.”
Dr. David Battinelli, chief medical officer at Northwell Health, said returning to work for employees of both the public and private sectors should be determined by the numbers vaccinated and precautions and other public health measures in place like social distancing and hand washing.
“If you are in fact vaccinated and you continue to maintain diligence with respect to proper behavior of distancing as best you can, wearing masks, hand washing, it may be fine. If you’re not vaccinated, I think it’s to be determined,” said De. Battinelli. “We watch the data very, very carefully but we need to be vigilant with respect to the data because the data shows there’s a slight uptick, we’ll need a new plan.”
With new variants, it’s clear the pandemic is not over.
A return to work will likely mean a different environment tham the one we left before COVID-19.
“As you go back to work, that doesn’t mean it’s back to work like we used to go back to work,” said Dr. Battinelli. “It means using as much precaution as possible.”
Gatherings in small quarters, such as conference rooms and lunchrooms, may be a thing of the past.
“The primary issue most people are concerned about is lunch time, break time when people congregate in those typically small places without masks that’s your highest risk of exposure,” said Battinelli.
Mayor de Blasio said he expects other large companies to make decisions on having employees return to work in the coming months as more people get vaccinated.