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NYC’s municipal workforce of about 80,000 returns to the office

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Some 80,000 members of the city’s municipal workforce returned to their offices Monday for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic last year.

“I woke up pretty early just to put makeup on for the first time in a year and a half,” said Brittany Wolfe, 24, who works for the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.

Mayor Bill de Blasio had announced the return date back in March, as the Big Apple reopens from the coronavirus pandemic.

Like most of the municipal employees returning for in-person work, Wolfe, a Westchester resident, will be on a staggered schedule, working both in the office and remotely for the time being.

“I’ve been really cautious for the last year and a half and I’m optimistic that my office and my co-workers will kind of be doing the same,” said Wolfe, noting that she’s both “excited and nervous.”

Commuters emerge from the City Hall subway station.
Workers ride the subway, some for the first time in a year, as the city welcomes municipal employees back to the office.
Stephen Yang

Wolfe, who rode the subway for the time Monday since the beginning of the health crisis, said that for the month of May, she will work in the office one day a week and then twice a week in June.

Gillian Coutain, 57, a staffer at the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, said she was “a little bit” concerned going back into the office “because we’re in a closed space.”

“That is my major concern,” she explained. “They said the vent system is clean, but I don’t know. There’s no way to prove that. I just pray and I take them for their word.”

The entrance to 1 Centre St. as city workers come back after covid shut downs.
More than 180,000 city workers have gotten at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
Stephen Yang

Strict coronavirus safety protocols have been put in place for the return of the city’s workforce, which includes wearing face masks, social distancing and health screenings, officials said.

“I have no worries at all because our office is not going to be overcrowded. They put safety measures in place,” said Leslie Rodriguez, an employee for the Department of Buildings.

Rodriguez added, “I’m happy to be out. It’s a bit uncomfortable working from home. It’s a bit cramped and I really don’t have the work space.”

Though there is no COVID-19 vaccine mandate, the city is strongly encouraging its employees to get the shot.

Brittany Wolfe works at the Manhattan DA’s office.
Brittany Wolfe said she “put makeup on for the first time in a year and a half” for her first day back at the office.
Stephen Yang

De Blasio called Monday “one of those turning point moments.”

“City Hall is abuzz today. It’s a great feeling,” de Blasio said during his press briefing. “For the first time in a year-plus, we really have the spirit and the energy of this place back and it’s a great feeling.”

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But Henry Garrido, executive director of District Council 37, the municipal workers union, criticized the timing and approach of bringing city workers back to the office.

Henry Garrido, executive director of the DC-37 union.
Henry Garrido expressed concerns that not enough of New York City’s workforce has been vaccinated to return to in-person working.
Ron Adar / M10s / MEGA

“Progress has been made, but we’re not there yet. For starters, we are only aware of 34 percent of our workforce being vaccinated. The city should focus on bringing that number up before bringing everyone back to work gradually,” Garrido said in a statement.

“Second, the inconsistency across the agencies tells you everything you need to know. Some agencies are bringing everyone back every day, others once a week. It does not make sense and makes clear everyone is guessing. We need to figure out the safest approach and apply it evenly across city government.” 

De Blasio responded to Garrido’s comments during his briefing, saying, “There is a single unified approach right here. It is consistent.”

“I’m quite satisfied,” said de Blasio. “It’s been a careful, consultative approach and it’s working.”

Leslie Rodriguez works at DOB, by City Hall Park.
“I’m happy to be out. It’s a bit uncomfortable working from home,” Leslie Rodriguez said about the return to in-person working.
Stephen Yang

In total, there are 325,378 full- and part-time municipal workers in the Big Apple and about 80 percent of the city’s workforce has already been on the job in in-person roles due to the front-line nature of their work.

More than 180,000 city workers who have received at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine, according to de Blasio.

“I think we’re on a pretty strong pace there,” he said.

Overall, the city has administered more than 6.6 million vaccine shots to date with more than 2.6 million Gotham residents fully vaccinated.

Gillian Coutain, who works at DCAS.
Gillian Coutain said her major safety concern about returning to the office is the cleanliness of the air vents.
Stephen Yang

The Big Apple’s COVID-19 indicators are also continuing to trend downward as more people get inoculated.

According to the latest data, the city had a 2.78 percent infection rate on a seven-day rolling average as of Saturday — “a great number,” de Blasio said.

Ninety-five people were admitted to city hospitals with suspected COVID-19 on Saturday and 40 percent of them tested positive for the bug, the data shows.

The city’s seven-day rolling average of new virus cases was at 1,202, according to the data.

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