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City Hall employees return to telework amid omicron surge

Emily Sullivan/WYPR
Baltimore City Hall. City workers are resuming telework amid the omicron surge.

Baltimore City employees who have gradually returned to their offices have been told to resume teleworking, officials said at a hearing Wednesday.

City Administrator Chris Shorter said the decision to pause the shift back to in-person work was influenced by spiking COVID-19 cases and high testing positivity rates caused by the highly transmissible omicron variant.

“This decision, like all of our decisions, was made to protect the safety and well-being of residents as well as our employees,” he told the city council’s Health, Environment, and Technology committee.

First responders and emergency personnel will continue their non-remote work. City Hall’s new remote policy does not apply to school system workers, who answer to schools CEO Sonja Santelises.

While productivity data is still being analyzed, HR head Quenton Herbert said he hasn’t noticed any dips.

“I'm receiving emails later in the evening and earlier in the morning,” he said. “Folks are working longer because they have the ability and accessibility of their laptop in their respective homes.”

City safety czar Sebastiana Gianci said about 75% of city workers are vaccinated against COVID-19, nearly the same as the city’s overall rate. A $1,000 incentive to become fully vaccinated has not “moved the needle tremendously, but they are in place for up to January 14,” she said.

Mayor Brandon Scott mandated that city employees get fully vaccinated, though they are allowed to opt out if they submit to weekly testing.

Gianci said that Enoch Pratt Free Library workers have the highest rate among agencies: more than 90% of staffers are vaccinated, compared to 85% of health department employees, 81% of transportation department employees, 79% of recreation and parks employees, 72% of police department employees and 67% of fire department employees.

Emily Sullivan is a city hall reporter at WYPR, where she covers all things Baltimore politics. She joined WYPR after reporting for NPR’s national airwaves. There, she was a reporter for NPR’s news desk, business desk and presidential conflicts of interest team. Sullivan won a national Edward R. Murrow Award for an investigation into a Trump golf course's finances alongside members of the Embedded team. She has also won awards from the Chesapeake Associated Press Broadcasters Association for her use of sound and feature stories. She has provided news analysis on 1A, The Takeaway, Here & Now and All Things Considered.