Many local government employees around the Puget Sound region will continue working from home until 2021, officials announced Tuesday.
Leaders from King, Pierce and Snohomish counties, from the cities of Everett, Kenmore, Redmond, Seattle, Shoreline and Tacoma, and from the ports of Seattle and Everett, “are taking a united approach to slow the spread of COVID-19 and maximize physical distancing by extending teleworking for eligible employees until 2021,” a news release from King County Executive Dow Constantine said.
The governments collectively employ many thousands of workers; King County has about 15,000, with about 5,000 eligible to work from home, and the city of Seattle has about 12,000, with about 7,000 now working remotely, according to spokespeople for Constantine and Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan.
King County previously had advised eligible employees they would be working from home until at least Labor Day, Constantine spokesperson Chase Gallagher said. They now will telework at least through Jan. 8.
The county’s mandatory teleworking policy applies to employees, “except those where there is an operational need” to physically be at work. For example, bus operators cannot work from home.
“We are determined to do all that we can to slow the spread of this virus in our communities and keep our employees and residents as safe as possible,” Constantine said in a statement.
“We’ve learned a lot about our ability to adapt and respond amid this pandemic, and by taking a regional approach to telework, we can continue to meet the needs of residents, maximize physical distancing for people who need to report to work in person, and further stem the spread of COVID-19.”
Seattle’s telework policy applies to all employees who can perform their regular duties remotely; employees impacted by facility closures; and employees with non-essential duties, Durkan spokesperson Kelsey Nyland said.
First responders in the Police Department and Fire Department, along with work crews at Seattle City Light, Seattle Public Utilities and the Department of Transportation are among those not working from home, Nyland said.
Tuesday’s announcement should help employees with school-aged children better plan ahead, as districts announce plans to hold classes remotely in the fall, Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers said in the news release.
Local governments will continue to connect people with key services, such as housing and food assistance, online and via phone, officials said.
The decision to keep many King County and Seattle employees at home through the end of 2020 may be hard on downtown Seattle’s economy in the short term. Many now working remotely would otherwise be commuting to desks downtown in the King County Administration Building, the King County Chinook Building, City Hall and the Seattle Municipal Tower.
They won’t be buying wake-up lattes, lunchtime sandwiches and after-work beers from nearby shops, restaurants and bars anytime soon.
“Many of the things that make downtown a vibrant place are tied to the larger economy and impacted by employees staying home this year,” said Don Blakeney, a Downtown Seattle Association vice president, urging downtown residents to patronize restaurants in the neighborhood. “The sustained absence of tens of thousands of downtown workers is likely to result in additional closure of small businesses and delays in reopening and rehiring.”
“The ripple effects of extended remote work illustrate why getting the spread of the virus under control is critical, as well as the importance of local officials staying focused on how we help businesses of all sizes … recover during this difficult time,” added Alicia Teel, spokesperson for the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, noting jobs are on the line.
The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 has continued to spread in the region, with health officials in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties urging people to take precautions to avoid infecting others or themselves.
The seven-day average of new cases in King County has reached higher levels in July than at the outbreak’s previous peak in April.
Governments aren’t the region’s first employers to tell workers to stay home longer. Google will have most employees and contractors work remotely until July 2021, it said Monday. Amazon announced earlier this month it would extend its work-from-home option for corporate employees to Jan. 8.