subway rider wearing mask (DimaBerlin/Shuterstock.com)

Is it too soon to send feds back to their workplaces?

Federal agencies -- especially those in the Washington, D.C., region -- are returning employees to their regular workplaces at a faster clip than most private-sector employers, according to a report in the New York Times.

And that return to work may be too fast, endangering employees, their friends and families and hard-won progress against the pandemic, the report suggests.

Agencies, in general, are following the White House’s three phase “Opening Up America Again” plan, a strategy less detailed than most states’ four-part reopening plans. The Department of Energy has authorized 20% of its workforce, or 600 employees, to return. The Department of Defense may soon have far more -- fully 18,000 -- back at their desks.

The departments of Interior, Veterans Affairs, State, Homeland Security, the IRS and others, the piece reports, are beginning to call large numbers of employees back from remote work to their bricks-and-mortar worksites. It’s worrying many epidemiologists and other health professionals, the report says, since in the national capital region -- the area most dense with federal jobs -- only Washington, D.C., and not Maryland or Virginia, meets the administration’s criteria for phased return-to-work: 14 days straight of downward numbers of new COVID-19 cases and hospitals managing well.

In contrast to moves by the White House and the Office of Personnel Management, D.C.’s local and area state governments continue to advocate a slower return to physical workplaces and actively encourage continued telework wherever possible.

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