State offices to resume normal operations next month, governor announces
State offices will resume normal operations starting next month, Gov. Laura Kelly's administration announced Wednesday, citing the widespread availability of the COVID-19 vaccine.
While some state government facilities have reopened, most state offices in and around Topeka have remained largely closed since the pandemic began last year.
But a memo from Secretary of Administration DeAngela Burns-Wallace to state agency leaders noted all state employees will have had the opportunity to get vaccinated by the end of May, making reopening more feasible. Normal operations are set to resume on June 13.
"While all employees may not have taken advantage of this opportunity, this
fact as well as the widespread availability of fast and reliable testing for COVID-19 and the substantially reduced numbers of new positive cases being reported throughout the State are key factors in taking the next step in our response to this worldwide pandemic," Burns-Wallace wrote.
Sarah LaFrenz, president of the Kansas Organization of State Employees, the union representing state workers, said the move was a sensible one and praised the "thoughtful protections" for employees.
"Moving forward, we will work to ensure all workplaces and agencies across state government follow this guidance faithfully and show respect to the public servants working so hard to reopen Kansas," LaFrenz said in a statement.
A slate of protective measures developed in consultation with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment will be put in place when state offices reopen.
That includes mask-wearing requirements for workers and visitors, except when an employee is at their desk and away from others. Agencies will work to reconfigure their office spaces to provide for adequate social distancing.
Temperature screening stations will continue to be used in all state buildings under the governor's control. The machines have been in use since last fall and were purchased with federal COVID-19 relief money.
Remote working is still allowed "where adequate social distancing cannot be maintained in the office." But Burns-Wallace's memo noted that remote work was done to ensure during COVID-19, not "for the convenience of employees."
If an employee is showing COVID-19 symptoms, they will get one day of paid leave. If they later test positive, the worker will get 14 days of paid leave.
The move comes a week after legislators attempted to slip a provision in the state budget requiring state employees to resume their work in-person by June 1.
"We’ve gone through the last year knowing that this day is coming," said Rep. Ken Rahjes, R-Agra, who proposed the language.
Members eventually backed off, instead opting only to require driver's license offices to reopen by next month.
Kansas reported 411 cases of COVID-19 since Monday, as well as an increase of 13 deaths and 55 new hospitalizations in that timeframe.