Most city of Austin employees to work from home through at least March 28 as part of social distancing effort amid coronavirus

Austin City Hall (Christopher Neely/Community impact Newspaper)
Austin City Hall (Christopher Neely/Community impact Newspaper)

Austin City Hall (Christopher Neely/Community impact Newspaper)

Note: This story was updated at 5:19 on March 16 with new information from Travis County.

In an effort to slow the spread of the new coronavirus, most city of Austin employees will begin working from home this week through Saturday, March 28, according to an internal memo obtained by Community Impact Newspaper.

In the March 15 memo to city staff, Austin City Manager Spencer Cronk said city departments would begin moving toward a work-from-home model on March 16 and that providing city services while maintaining social distancing was the priority.

“Teleworking, increasing or ensuring adequate working space among staff, and modifying operations or services that bring people together are actions we will take to accomplish this,” Cronk said in the memo. “We will use a phased approach for modifying city operations and transitioning to a more offsite telework environment.”

The move by the city comes as many private employers around town are implementing work-from-home policies. Two of the most high-profile local employers, computer company Dell and the job recruitment service, Indeed, advised all employees to work from home earlier this month in response to the coronavirus. Cronk emphasized that no employee should come into work if they are feeling sick and that city employees should contact the city’s human resources department if they are concerned with child care.

A spokesperson for the city said this would impact most city employees, with the exception of first responders, public safety officers, emergency management operations and public works and sanitation workers. The Austin Fire Department announced March 16 that stations would stop receiving visitors for non-emergencies in attempt to maintain social distancing. A spokesperson for the Austin Police Department said no such policies were implemented for their stations.

According to a March 15 news release from the city, there will be no interruptions in “essential city services including public safety, trash, recycling, and compost pick up, Austin Water service, Austin Energy service, and transportation services.”

“We believe these changes in city services are measured steps to help prevent the spread of this virus in our community,” Cronk said in the news release. “We asked our department directors to look at their operations and decide how to transition as many of those functions to facilitate social distancing. We understand that we have to strike a balance, and many critical city functions will continue at their normal work locations.”

The same news released announced the indefinite closure of all library branches, pools, golf courses, tennis facilities, recreation and cultural centers, and the Austin Animal Center. Spring break activities and camps will shut down after Wednesday, March 18, but meal services for senior citizens and children will continue.

The city also announced that all non-essential municipal court dates will be rescheduled, in-person stakeholder meetings that aren’t time sensitive will be rescheduled and “many boards and commissions meetings this week will be rescheduled or canceled.”

“We continue to urge the public to remain calm, to be responsible, and to prepare appropriately,” said Dr. Mark Escott, interim health authority for Austin-Travis County, in a statement. “Our personal hygiene and social distancing messages are still the critical piece to stopping the spread of this virus.”

Travis County joined the city of Austin in the decision to transition most county employees to telework later on March 16, according to a press release sent by the county. Acting Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt announced that employees whose schedules were compatible with working from home would do so until further notice.

“As we continue to fight the spread of COVID-19, it is important for Travis County employees to do their part by teleworking and maintaining the highest level of services achievable under the circumstances,” said Eckhardt. “We ask the residents of Travis County to bear with us as we make this temporary transition. It is our goal to limit any disruption in service they receive.”

According to the release, county employees with “non-adaptable, essential” positions will continue to report in-office as usual, but with added social distancing requirements.
By Christopher Neely
Christopher Neely is Community Impact's Austin City Hall reporter. A New Jersey native, Christopher moved to Austin in 2016 following years of community reporting along the Jersey Shore. His bylines have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun, USA Today and several other local outlets along the east coast.


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