Vaccines Enable Return to Office

Daniel Aubry

Daniel Aubry — maskless — at his real estate office in Beacon (Photo by L. Sparks)

But some employers stick with remote work

Daniel Aubry is breathing a lot easier. 

Wearing a mask for much of the past year was a “real strain,” he said. But becoming vaccinated against the virus that causes COVID-19, along with others on the staff of his eponymous real estate company on Main Street in Beacon, has allowed him to shed face coverings while in the office. 

The atmosphere is “much more relaxed,” he said, adding that “before, the greeting was, ‘How are you?’ Now, it’s, ‘Are you vaccinated?’ ” 

The pace of COVID-19 vaccinations has been waning, but enough people are inoculated in New York state — 67.9 percent of adults had received at least one dose as of Wednesday (June 16) — to fuel a precipitous drop in new infections and a migration back to the office by employees who, in many cases, have spent more than a year working remotely. 

The game-changing impact of the vaccines was underscored in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s announcement on Tuesday that the state was lifting capacity limits, social-distancing mandates and other restrictions placed on businesses and social gatherings at the dawn of the pandemic shutdown in March 2020. 

Restrictions Repealed

What changed with the state’s Tuesday announcement that most COVID-19 health and safety restrictions had been lifted?

  • Unvaccinated people must continue to wear masks. 
  • Social distancing, capacity restrictions and cleaning and disinfection and other guidelines are now optional for businesses. However, restrictions remain in place for indoor event spaces with capacities of 5,000 or more, preschools and schools with grades K-12, public transit, homeless shelters, correctional facilities, nursing homes, and health care settings.
  • Large indoor venues that require proof of vaccination can eliminate social distancing and mask requirements. People who are not vaccinated or whose status is not known must present proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test and wear a mask. Children under age 4 are exempt.

The repeal came two weeks to the day after River Architects reopened its eight-employee office on Main Street in Cold Spring after its staff had all been vaccinated. Co-owner Juhee Lee-Hartford said interacting with employees remotely “worked to a certain degree,” but it required more planning and was absent some of the conveniences of being in the office, like being able to walk a few feet to speak with a colleague.  Today (June 18) she and her staff will be going out to celebrate employee birthdays, Lee-Hartford said.

“I’m quite happy to have everybody back in person,” she said. 

river architects

The staff at River Architects in Cold Spring has returned to the office without masks after being vaccinated. (Photo by L. Sparks)

Public employees have also been returning. After a year with a “significant number” of Dutchess County employees working remotely, many have returned to the office and nearly all will return by July, said Colleen Pillus, a representative for the county. Dutchess reached a milestone on Monday (June 14) when 50 percent of its 293,718 residents became fully vaccinated. 

Putnam County announced last month that fully vaccinated employees would be allowed to work without masks. Nearly 54 percent of Putnam’s 98,892 residents were fully vaccinated as of Monday. 

Others remain cautious. 

At Clearwater in Beacon, the office is being staffed by one person on weekdays, said Steve Stanne, its interim executive director, on June 9. When or if the 10 staff members who are usually in the office will return is “still in flux,” but he expects the organization to employ a combination of in-person and remote scheduling. 

Boscobel House & Gardens in Garrison, which had up to a dozen employees working in its offices before the shutdown, will also adopt a hybrid schedule, said Lauren Daisley, its director of communications, on June 9. 

The organization is “not so focused on making sure that everyone is physically there,” she said. “We’ve discovered that sometimes, working from home is extremely productive; and we have a close-knit team, so we still collaborate well.”

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