Although the coronavirus pandemic is continuing unabated, local governments are starting to bring their employees back to the office.
Charlottesville, Albemarle County and their respective school divisions have started or soon will begin bringing their employees back to work in person. Some also will be slightly expanding public access to facilities.
Administrative staff in Charlottesville City Schools are already back at work and Charlottesville, Albemarle County and Albemarle County Public Schools will start transitioning back to the office this week.
The return-to-work plans are being implemented despite indications that the pandemic is not slowing down. The Thomas Jefferson Health District, which includes the city and county, reported 1,208 cases of the coronavirus and 29 deaths as of Sunday. In the first 10 days of July, the district saw 218 new cases, putting the month on pace to surpass June’s 380 cases.
The city has been allowing limited interaction through the Department of Neighborhood Development Services, but will expand that later this month. The Commissioner of the Revenue’s Office and Treasurer’s Office will reopen on a limited basis starting July 20 for in-person transactions by appointment only. The slight expansion of in-person services represents the first step in a phased reopening of City Hall.
Services that will be allowed include tax inquiries, relief program applications, utilities payments and zone parking applications.
Department directors were sent back to the office on June 29, according to a letter to employees sent by City Manager Tarron Richardson last month.
Staff will start returning to work in phases on Monday, although some employees will continue to telework.
The city has instituted several safety measures, such as daily staff screenings, staggered shifts and limiting occupancy to 50%. No more than 50 people will be allowed in any rooms and public meetings will remain virtual.
The Albemarle County Office Building is already open to walk-in visitors. County staff will start returning to the office Monday as part of a two-week employee transition period, although teleworking will continue to be encouraged, according to a letter sent last week by Deputy County Executive Doug Walker.
A public reopening is tentatively planned for later this month, but would be determined in conjunction with the health district, Walker wrote.
Staff and visitors will only be allowed to enter through dedicated entrances and everyone will be required to wear face masks. Employees will be screened daily and observe physical distancing. Facilities will be cleaned regularly.
In the school divisions, only 12-month employees, such as principals, school secretaries and custodians, are returning. Teachers are expected to start returning in mid-August. Plans are still being hammered out for how school will work for students in the fall.
City schools spokeswoman Beth Cheuk said the Central Office has been open for regular hours and other building offices have been open for limited hours throughout the pandemic.
At schools, occupancy has been limited. Twelve-month employees have returned and are wearing masks, observing social distancing and using hand sanitizer.
The division hasn’t approved a return date for teachers, but a draft calendar would match the county’s plan, Cheuk said. Professional development would occur online so that teachers could work ahead of time and eliminate the need for large groups to gather in one room.
County schools employees started unofficially coming back to work last week, but 12-month employees will start returning this week, said spokesman Phil Giaramita.
Albemarle schools employees are being asked to complete a survey about their concerns and needs in returning to work.
“We’re trying to get a firm fix or understanding of what the intentions are of our employees and what they’re concerned about,” Giaramita said.
Some employees will be allowed to continue working from home if possible. Teachers are expected to return in mid-August, although some have said they prefer an all-virtual start to the school year.
The school division is requiring face masks for all employees and encouraging social distancing.
Classrooms will be disinfected and staff will have hand sanitizer and be encouraged to regularly wash their hands. The division might implement more safety measures down the road.
“There’s still a lot that’s up in the air,” Giaramita said.