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NYC Mayor De Blasio Orders Municipal Employees Back To The Office

NOEL KING, HOST:

All right, around a million people who work in Manhattan still haven't gone back to their offices because of the pandemic. And so this week, the mayor ordered municipal employees to start going back to help jump-start things. Here's Beth Fertig from member station WNYC.

BETH FERTIG, BYLINE: For Cheryl Guilford-Jackson, Monday marked the return of an old routine.

CHERYL GUILFORD-JACKSON: Got up in the morning, got myself ready. This time, I made lunch (laughter). I did make lunch.

FERTIG: For the first time in 14 months, Guilford-Jackson commuted from her home in Long Island to her desk at a city agency in Lower Manhattan. She was a little nervous, but everyone was kept at least 6 feet apart.

GUILFORD-JACKSON: The occupancy on the floor is not full. It's, like, maybe 20, 25, give or take. Coming in, I mean, they are doing all the precautions to make sure we are safe.

FERTIG: Masks are required at all times, except when eating, and vaccinations, though not required, are strongly encouraged. More than two-thirds of the city's 300,000 workers were already in their offices, but 80,000 were still working entirely from home. They now have to report for duty at least one day a week. Robyn Liverpool was only coming in about twice a month until now. She got her nails painted yellow and dressed up for the occasion.

ROBYN LIVERPOOL: I got my open-toe shoes on. It was like the first day of school for me, I say.

FERTIG: She says it felt good seeing more people again in-person.

LIVERPOOL: My old supervisor sits next to me, and there was another young lady I haven't seen since - so it was good to see them, good to catch up, you know, ask them how's their family? Some people have lost people, unfortunately. Some people haven't.

FERTIG: Some workers fear the city is rushing them back too soon. But Mayor Bill de Blasio says more than half of all city employees have had at least one vaccination. He also says bringing more workers into city offices would help restaurants and other businesses that are still struggling. This has been especially true in Chinatown. The neighborhood is also coping with anti-Asian hate crimes. Chi Vui Ngo owns Bo Ky restaurant near City Hall and was hoping he'd have a busy lunch hour, but it was still quiet Monday.

CHI VUI NGO: We should give it a little more time to come in because they just start today.

FERTIG: Across the street, he saw one good sign - a parking lot was looking more full than usual.

For NPR News, I'm Beth Fertig in New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF PETE ROCK'S "HEAVEN & EARTH") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.