Lamont navigating return to work for state employees

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By Paul Hughes, Republican-American

HARTFORD — Nearly 17,000 state employees in executive branch agencies have been working from home amid the coronavirus pandemic for part, or all, of their work week.

Gov. Ned Lamont had no timetable Tuesday for recalling state workers to their assigned workplaces. For the time being, the Lamont administration is following its guidelines for gradually reopening other office settings.

“We’re trying to follow consistent guidance,” said Josh Geballe, the state commissioner of administrative services. “The guidance from our public health team and from our governor is that if you have the ability at this point in time to continue telecommuting, then you should continue to do that, and we’re following that guidance ourselves.”

There are approximately 44,000 employees in executive branch agencies.

There were 600 state employees approved for telework before Lamont eased requirements in mid-March in response to the unfolding coronavirus outbreak. His March 14 order also authorized agency leaders to consider flexible scheduling among other social distancing strategies.

Approximately 9,630 state workers have been reporting to their assigned state workplace on some work days and teleworking on others, according to the Office of Policy and Management.

In addition, another 7,100 employees have been teleworking full-time. State managers also determined roughly 850 workers were unable to continue their state work from home.

Lamont also provided up to 14 days of paid time to state employees who were unable to telework or come to work for coronavirus-related reasons before being required to use their sick leave or vacation time. Some 5,200 employees took advantage of this option, and the average was slightly less than 54 hours per employee.

Geballe observed telework was not an option for many state employees, such as state police, prison guards, child protection social workers, field-based Department of Transportation workers, and staff at state hospitals. These workers were considered essential for continuing state operations.

ADMINISTRATION OFFICIALS ARE DEVELOPING plans for returning more employees to state workplaces and resuming state services that were disrupted.

“We are working through that with each of the agencies sequentially, and as we see the opportunity to start to reintroduce some services that have been discontinued we’ll look to do that as quickly as possible,” said Geballe, who doubles as Lamont’s chief operating officer.

For each agency, he said the calculation is different in terms of the service, the importance of resuming the particular service, and how a service can be resumed while minimizing the additional risk.

For instance, Lamont and top aides indicated Tuesday that fingerprinting services needed to obtain state firearms permits are likely to resume soon. Lamont said an announcement on that was going to be made in a matter of days.

The governor issued an order in March that allowed state police and local police departments to limit or eliminate fingerprinting for background checks. The Connecticut Citizens Defense League and several of its members filed a federal lawsuit earlier this month challenging the constitutionality of the order.

With state workplaces, Geballe said the administration is going to adhere to the protocols and recommendations that were developed for professional offices.

Offices that were allowed to reopen last week were limited to 50% capacity, with desks spaced six feet apart, restrictions on elevators and other shared spaces, mandatory face coverings, staggered shift and break times, and cleaning and disinfection protocols.

Lamont said he is still recommending private businesses continue to allow employees to work remotely whenever possible.

“I think that is in your best interests and our best interests,” he said.

AN ADDITIONAL 430 PEOPLE tested positive for coronavirus since Monday, according to the Department of Public Health.

The latest statistics Tuesday showed that there have been 41,303 laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the first case was announced on March 8.

Public health officials reported another 27 fatalities on Tuesday. There have been 3,769 confirmed and unconfirmed deaths associated with COVID-19. The first death was announced on March 18.

There was a net decline of 12 hospitalizations for COVID-19 between new admissions and discharges to 694 patients statewide. This followed an uptick of five patients on Monday.

There have been 225,362 diagnostic tests for COVID-19 to date, including an additional 3,636 tests since Monday.

LOCALLY, THE NAUGATUCK VALLEY HEALTH DISTRICT reported there have been 360 laboratory-confirmed cases in Naugatuck and 42 in Beacon Falls as of Tuesday.

The health district reported a net increase of two coronavirus-associated deaths of Naugatuck residents Tuesday. Three additional deaths of Naugatuck residents in nursing homes were reported and officials determined a previously-reported death of a Naugatuck resident was someone that didn’t live in the borough. There have been 28 confirmed and one unconfirmed death associated with COVID-19 in Naugatuck, according to the health district.

The health district hasn’t reported any deaths associated with coronavirus in Beacon Falls.

The Chesprocott Health District reported there have been 61 COVID-19 cases in Prospect as of Tuesday and no related deaths.

Elio Gugliotti contributed to this report.