The Minneapolis City Council extended Mayor Jacob Frey’s declaration of a local public health emergency earlier this month due to the dangerous COVID-19 delta and omicron variants. Council and commission meetings will stay virtual through at least mid-February.
City staff, however, will soon be marching back to the office.
About 60% of the approximately 4,000 city employees are first responders or other essential workers who worked in person throughout the pandemic, while those who could worked from home. Some city departments have started phasing back those employees, who are officially being recalled Jan. 10.
Minneapolis is not requiring employees be vaccinated. Staff can choose to test for COVID once a week instead.
“The layered protection the City has in place, including masks, testing or proof of vaccination and ventilation, are highly effective at preventing virus spread in the workplace,” said city spokeswoman Sarah McKenzie.
Staff can apply for alternative work arrangements. However, those who prefer to continue working from home out of concern for their health may still be required to return to the office some days of the week.
This was the case with Julie Piwoschuk-Kosmas, a 31-year employee in the city’s Finance and Property Services Department and president of the Minneapolis Professional Employees Association union, which represents some 540 city workers.
Finance department staff are expected to be in the office at minimum two days a week, said Piwoschuk-Kosmas. “I know that our members like working from home, and I know it’s been very successful. … People are concerned. Nobody wants to get sick.”
Minneapolis staff are going back to the office before their counterparts at many other government agencies.
Hennepin County’s return to work plans have been repeatedly delayed as state COVID-19 positivity rates spiked earlier this month and remain high still. The Metropolitan Council also postponed, following state guidance.
“It is disappointing to delay our [return to office] planning and reopening yet again – but right now, teleworking for employees who are able to to do so continues to be one of our best strategies to protect our colleagues whose jobs require working onsite,” wrote Minnesota Department of Transportation Commissioner Margaret Anderson Kelliher in a letter to employees
Corporations are taking precautions as well. Wells Fargo, the third-largest employer downtown, confirmed Wednesday that its workers would not be returning to the office in early January as planned.
McKenzie said a policy group including Frey, City Council leadership, the Health Commissioner, City Coordinator and other city leaders make return-to-office decisions together.
The Minneapolis Health Department is currently in transition as Health Commissioner Gretchen Musicant retires. She served as commissioner for 20 years, and will be replaced by interim Health Commissioner Heidi Ritchie, the mayor’s policy director, in the new year.