But with virus cases seeming to stabilize and vaccinations becoming more widespread, city officials intend to send a message that New York is close to returning to normal: On May 3, the city will compel its municipal office employees to begin to report to work in person.
Mayor Bill de Blasio’s decision to bring the nation’s largest municipal work force back to the office represents a significant turnabout for a city that served as the national epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, coming to symbolize the perils of living in densely packed global capitals.
The move is meant to broadcast that New York City will soon be open for business, and to encourage private companies to follow suit — lifting the hopes of landlords whose skyscrapers have largely sat empty as office workers stayed home.
The new policy, which will be rolled out in phases over several weeks, will affect about 80,000 employees who have been working remotely, including caseworkers, computer specialists and clerical associates. The rest of the city’s roughly 300,000-person work force, many of them uniformed personnel including police officers, firefighters and sanitation workers, have already been reporting to work sites.
The return to municipal office spaces will come with a raft of safety requirements. The total number of occupants of a space may not exceed 50 percent of the space’s maximum occupancy limit, as defined by the building code, according to presentations reviewed by The Times.
Real estate and business leaders have for months been arguing that a return to the office is key to the city’s economic recovery. Many of the city’s hardest-hit small businesses are in Manhattan’s commercial core, and New York City’s budget is heavily reliant on real estate taxes.
Yet some health experts are less certain that now is the time. “It certainly may be that May is a good time to think about starting to bring people back,” but thanks to the coronavirus variants, there is no guarantee, said Dr. Ronald Scott Braithwaite, a professor of medicine and population health at N.Y.U. Grossman School of Medicine. “It is a tough call.”
A spokesman for the mayor said that if cases surge again, the return will be delayed.