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After months of employees working from home, departments of the Forsyth County government are planning to reopen to employees starting next week.
At a regular meeting on Thursday, Forsyth County Commissioners took steps to reopen the county on a limited basis starting on Tuesday, May 26 by unanimously voting to end a change in policy for how employees are compensated for COVID-19, exempting employees working in public safety from certain federal programs that are available to other employees and capping the amount of negative paid time off, or PTO, some employees will be able to accrue.
“We're excited about getting the opportunity to bring some people back in and start to improve on service delivery,” said County Manager Eric Johnson. “Next week is our ability to kind of get thing kinks out and get ready to roll so by June 1... we're going to start bringing people in, and probably only by-appointment-only for some time because that allows us to spread out the customers and not have a lot of people lined up.”
Deputy County Manager Tim Merritt said a group of about a dozen county leaders had been having in-depth discussions about when to reopen and would start meeting with customers by appointments starting on June 1. He described it as a “soft opening.”
Along with holding meetings by appointment, the county is also installing plexiglass in places where employees interact with the community and making sure they have enough personal protective equipment, or PPE, and disinfectant.
“This week we have continued to get more and more personal protective equipment,” Merritt said. “We have gotten some of the disinfectant wipes. We have gotten some thermometers, we expect more thermometers coming in. We have a sufficient supply of the disinfectant cleaner as well as a sufficient supply of the masks and those things.”
Chris Grimes, the county's director of emergency management, said while the county will begin reopening, that doesn't mean all employees are coming back to the office.
“I think it's important to also note that this doesn't mean all employees are coming back,” he said. “Speaking for our group that's been working on this, those that have been successful in teleworking and working from home will continue to do that. We are still encouraging those that have been successful to do that so we can continue to practices the social distancing in our offices.”
Commissioners previously voted to extend pay to all employees from March 30 through Sunday, April 26, which was later extended to Sunday, May 24.
Those changes allowed county employees to work from home if needed, without dipping into their paid time off, or PTO. Supplemental pay for those who interact with the public was also approved on a by-department basis.
The approval fro Thursday's meeting will allow the pay change to expire, rather than extending it for another two-week pay period and would mean employees. except those in public safety. could apply for federal programs to continue to stay home for up to 80 working hours.
Those who still wanted to stay home after that time would need to use their PTO and those who have either exhausted or don't have enough PTO will be able to borrow against future PTO for up to another 80 hours.