Questions Remain About Opening State Offices

Questions Remain About Opening State Offices

By Ana Ceballos, The News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE — More than a month after Gov. Ron DeSantis began restarting Florida’s economy, his administration has not issued guidance for how state agencies should reopen offices to workers and the public.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many state workers have been working from home and have been following telework and sick leave policies issued in March by the Department of Management Services, an executive agency that oversees state personnel matters.

But the department had not outlined return-to-work protocols as of Tuesday, nearly two weeks after DeSantis moved into the second phase of the state’s economic reopening plan, which includes allowing expanded operations at restaurants and reopening bars and gyms. The first phase started in early May.

“Discussions are ongoing as to the reopening of state buildings. The work from the state agencies has been ongoing with some employees working from the office or teleworking,” Helen Aguirre Ferre, a spokeswoman for the governor, told The News Service of Florida in an email Monday.

Ferre did not answer repeated questions about the administration’s plan to reopen state offices or why DeSantis’ timeline for reopening has been different for businesses.

Meanwhile, some state agencies are operating under the months-old guidance for telework until told otherwise.

“FDOT (the Florida Department of Transportation) continues to follow the previous guidance issued from DMS (the Department of Management Services) at this time,” Beth Frady, a spokeswoman for the transportation agency, told the News Service in an email Monday.

At least one DeSantis administration agency, the Department of Health, has put in place an internal reopening plan.

On June 8, department officials sent an email to employees noting that “phase 2 of the Return from Telework Plan” had officially kicked off, according to a copy of the email obtained by the News Service.

The second phase of the plan allows 50 percent of department employees to return to the office and reopens department buildings and offices to the public with social distancing measures, the email said.

“The division director or other designated authority has complete discretion in selecting which employees will return to work under phase two,” the email said.

When Department of Health employees arrive at work, they will be “encouraged” but not required to wear face masks in the office, according to department guidelines.

“Employees may wear masks at their discretion. The department will have masks available upon request,” department officials said in the email.

The use of cloth face coverings is recommended in all business areas by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, unless a person has trouble breathing, is unable to tolerate wearing it or is unable to remove it without assistance.

Other guidelines from the Department of Health include cleaning high-touch and high-traffic areas in offices “at least daily,” asking employees to avoid handshakes and close quarters and screening visitors for signs and symptoms of COVID-19 prior to entering buildings.

Alberto Moscoso, a spokesman for the Department of Health, did not respond to repeated requests for information about whether the department would open offices across the state or if it would exclude offices in counties where COVID-19 is more concentrated.

Attorney General Ashley Moody and Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who operate their offices independently from the DeSantis administration, have been considering county-level data as they move forward with reopening plans.

Moody’s office crafted a reopening plan with the help of medical professionals at the University of Florida that began to allow up to 25 percent of department employees to return to the office on a voluntary basis on June 2.

“High-risk individuals will continue to work from home. Our offices in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach are excluded at this time,” Lauren Cassidy, a spokeswoman for Moody’s office, said at the time. “Additionally, masks will be required and provided in communal spaces.”

Southeast Florida has had by far the most COVID-19 cases in the state.

The Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services, headed by Fried, has drafted a reopening plan that will require employees to use face masks in workplaces and will allow vulnerable employees, such as those who are over age 65 or who have underlying medical conditions, to continue working from home.

The draft plan, obtained by the News Service, notes that desks and cubicles will be placed six feet apart, in-person meetings will be limited to 10 people, and visitors will be required to make appointments for in-office services.

Seating will be barred from waiting rooms. Break rooms and other common areas will be temporarily shut down. Inspectors will be required to use face masks at all times when checking food establishments, supermarkets or other private businesses.

Fried has repeatedly bashed the governor’s handling of the pandemic and slammed him for keeping her off a task force that looked at reopening the state’s economy. 

In some instances, her office’s safety guidelines could be stricter than those put forth by the DeSantis administration in absence of Department of Management Services return-to-work guidelines.

“Employees in a private or DMS-leased facility must adhere to any safety guidelines provided by the facility unless our guidelines were stricter and then should be followed,” Fried’s office noted in its plan.

8 Responses to "Questions Remain About Opening State Offices"

  1. Avatar
    JIMCAR   June 16, 2020 at 2:43 pm

    Think of the money saved in office space, square footage by allowing telecommuting for most state employees. It would be a huge savings.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Snidely Whiplash   June 16, 2020 at 8:47 pm

      Yes centralize the few needed to be “in an office enviornment” at Southwood and liquidate all down town State buildings.
      The 22 story Capital would make a great hotel or condos.
      Everyone else work from home.
      Do it!!!

      Reply
  2. Avatar
    Lena   June 16, 2020 at 10:10 pm

    After 7 days of over 1,000 new cases and three days of over 2,000 new cases, let’s all just admit that the economy is opening too soon and it will cost money and lives.

    At this rate, it’s crazy to pretend we are normal.

    And this is just a continuation of the first wave. If we get a second, we are far from there yet.

    Reply
  3. Avatar
    No Fear   June 17, 2020 at 9:41 am

    Anyone with a basic ability to use Excel and math can easily run Florida’s Covid numbers to determine what is the actual risk of death to this virus. As of 6/16/20 Florida has tested approximately 6.8% of it’s population or around 1.4 million Floridians. This is now a statistically reliable and valid sample you can extrapolate to the entire 21 million Florida residents. Of those tested only 5.4% were positive. If you extrapolate the 5.4% positive rate to the entirety of Florida’s population, you come up with approximately 1.1 million potential positive Florida residents. Since we know the actual death rate of 2,993 as of 6/16/20 you can easily calculate the estimated death rate at 0.26% to estimated positive Florida cases. A better way to put it is you have a 99.74% estimated recovery rate.
    Still another way to interpret easily available Florida Covid data is to look at the 5.4% positive rate of those tested. You have a 94.6% chance of being negative if you are tested. You also have a 0.21% chance of dying if you are tested.

    Now for the commentary. Testing will always continue to increase and so will the positive count. We know unequivocally the at-risk groups that have died from this virus and the majority died with co-morbidities. Unless you fall into those categories get out and live your life. The overwhelming majority of folks that test positive are asymptomatic and/or recover just fine.

    I will take these odds any day, any time and live my life as normal as possible without fear. I would love to have these odds while gambling in Vegas. You have a significantly higher chance of dying driving your car around town than dying from this virus. Stop the panic porn, stop the fear, stop wearing your burqa mask of fear, eat healthy, wash your filthy hands, cover your mouth when you cough, stay home if you feel bad and most of all stop scaring heck out of your kids and forcing them to wear burqa masks in public as well. Shame on all of you who have given in to the fear porn of the enemedia and criminally corrupt government institutions.

    Reply
  4. Avatar
    Ann Coates   June 17, 2020 at 10:49 am

    Stop publishing stories from The News Service of Florida.

    This is an opinion piece.

    Reply
  5. Avatar
    Ro G   June 17, 2020 at 7:28 pm

    If all of the minimum wage workers can be at work and schools are reopening in August I feel there’s no reason why state workers can’t go back.

    Reply
  6. Avatar
    Dale Nute   June 18, 2020 at 3:06 pm

    To no fear: 3018 dead divided by 82719 positive cases gives 0.036 as a proportion. Multiply by 100 to get percent. 3.6% not 0.026%
    You have a 1 in 20 chance of catching it according to your assumption that the data extrapolates to 1.1 million sick out 21 million population.
    If a 0.036 proportion of the 1.1 million die we have 39,600 dead for the State and that is basically under lock down conditions in which hospitals were able to save about 5 times the number who would have died without treatment. Overload the hospitals and your assumptions are no longer valid.
    Wearing even a poor mask will reduce your chances of breathing in a dose of virus high enough to infect you. Not wearing a mask is like playing poker with your cards showing.
    Vegas may break your kneecaps but Covid 19 kills.

    Reply
  7. Avatar
    Lee   June 25, 2020 at 11:13 am

    Hey Lena, Maybe its the punkprotestors out protesting and rioting too soon. If the economy stays shut down, the state government will eventually collapse and the local along with it.

    Reply

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