Update on in-person operations in January

By Dow Constantine, King County Executive

Many of you have been asking about Future of Work (return-to-office) plans in the new year, and the impacts of the Omicron variant to our timelines. Our Future of Work plans are created to be nimble and responsive to health and safety, operations, and the needs of our employees. 

We have not set a firm return-to-office date for those employees who are currently teleworking. At this point, due to the changing environment around the Omicron COVID-19 variant, and the expectation that the spread of the variant will rapidly increase in King County for the next several weeks, teleworking employees will not be asked to return to the office in January. Please continue to hold meetings remotely when possible and do not go into the office unless necessary and approved by your supervisor. With the exercise of reasonable caution, we can help slow the spread of this variant and protect our coworkers whose jobs necessitate they be on-site.

This direction is for King County Executive branch employees, including Assessments, Elections, and Sheriff Office. Employees in other branches of County government may receive additional guidance from their leaders.

While the severity of illness associated with Omicron is not clear at this time, the good news is that most fully vaccinated people – particularly those who have received booster shots – should be protected from severe infection. Thanks to the success of our employee vaccination mandate almost all of our workforce is fully vaccinated. However, we do expect to see many more serious cases in unvaccinated people, as well as many milder breakthrough infections among the vaccinated.

We already have several measures in place to stop the virus and are augmenting these with additional actions where appropriate:

  • Operations that require employees to be onsite will have KN95 or N95 masks available for all employees. Find out more about using these masks in this Public Health article on improving the quality and fit of your mask
  • Non-essential in-person gatherings should be canceled until further notice. Please also work with your supervisors and use good judgment about which meetings should continue to be conducted in person and limit the number of people present where possible. Conduct meetings using Teams, Zoom or teleconferencing where practical.
  • In-person customer services that are currently suspended will remain so, except where there is an operational need to shift to in-person service.
  • All employees and visitors must continue to wear masks indoors regardless of vaccination status.

I also urge you to make an appointment for a booster shot as soon as you are eligible. Booster shots have been shown to greatly improve protection against COVID-19, including the Omicron and Delta variants. To schedule a COVID-19 vaccine booster, visit www.kingcounty.gov/vaccine or use the Washington State Department of Health’s vaccine locator to check out your options and get on a waitlist.

I know that the emergence of this variant is something none of us wanted to see, particularly right before the holidays. As we enter the holiday season, there are many things you can do to protect yourself and your loved ones, including: 

  • Limit the number and size of gatherings. If possible, get a test before the gathering. Rapid tests are less accurate but still useful
  • Gatherings will be safer in well-ventilated spaces. Open windows for fresh air
  • Postpone travel where possible
  • Now is the time to refresh your mask if needed. Make sure it is well-fitting and high-quality. Everyone ages 5 and older, regardless of vaccination status, are required to wear masks in all indoor public settings and at outdoor events with 500 or more people. Masks are also recommended for everyone in crowded outdoor settings
  • Visit Washington DOH’s Vaccine Locator to get a booster appointment
  • Take extra precautions for higher risk people in your life, including those who are unable to get vaccinated.

I encourage you to take reasonable precautions this holiday season and do everything you can to stay safe and reduce the impact of this virus on family and friends, on healthcare and other emergency workers, and on our entire King County community.