Despite previous assurances that all state workers would return full-time and in-person on October 18, Gov. Phil Murphy said today that the transition from partially virtual work would be staggered, and that only large agencies have returned to in-person work.
“We decided, with some of the bigger agencies, to focus on them first, particularly on the ones that have a high customer-facing reality,” Murphy said at today’s twice-a-week Covid briefing.
This week, the governor’s office as well as the Department of Children and Families, the Department of Labor, and the Motor Vehicle Commission are fully back; other departments will be phased in in the coming weeks.
Murphy added that the decision to stagger the in-person return was made some time ago, though it was not publicly announced, and is meant to allow for a smoother rollout of testing procedures among the state’s more than 70,000 workers.
State Sen. Kristin Corrado (R-Totowa), who just last week issued a statement demanding that Murphy hold fast to his plan and fully reopen the state government, said that she was “disappointed but not surprised” about today’s announcement.
“I’m mystified as to why they’re not open now,” Corrado said. “Other businesses, schools, daycares have been open for a long time, and seem to be handling and dealing with [Covid guidelines]. And the very state that puts out the policies can’t seem to figure it out. It makes absolutely no sense. There’s no excuse for being closed for almost 20 months. None.”
Today also marks the deadline for state workers to either be vaccinated or face weekly testing, but Murphy and his chief counsel Parimal Garg said those requirements would not yet be enforced on workers in agencies that haven’t yet fully resumed in-person work.
“The vaccination requirement applies to everyone starting today, but the testing opt-out only applies if the workers are reporting to the worksite regularly,” Garg said.
Murphy did not immediately say what percentage of the overall state workforce has fully returned, nor did he know how many state workers have gotten vaccinated, though he did say the number was “very high.”
The staggered return means it may be some time before it becomes clear whether a significant number of state workers are choosing to retire rather than return full-time in-person. According to an NJ Advance Media report this morning, there are just 71,174 people currently employed by the state, versus 74,369 at this point two years ago.
This story was updated at 4:46 p.m. with quotes from State Sen. Kristin Corrado.