General services, including lawn care, first Detroit city employees to return to work

Mayor Mike Duggan announced Tuesday that they are bringing back 200 general services department employees as the first city workers to return to work.

Right now, 5,000-5,500 workers are physically in the office with another 1,500 working from home. Beyond professions considered essential like law enforcement, firefighters, and EMTs, the plan the city will begin rolling out for all its departments will be based on one rule: "You should be as safe in your workplace during the day as you are at home on the weekends," said Duggan.

Now the city is bringing back about 200 workers in their General Services Department.

“These are the folks who cut the grass in the parks, cut the medians, maintain the grass at the police precincts, and really throughout the city,” he said.

They had always been permitted to return to work under the governor’s stay-at-home order to perform public service, but Duggan elected not to bring them back until they had the highest standards of safety outlined, he said.

“Their health is going to be the overriding concern,” Duggan said.

All workers will be tested before Monday.

Every time the city brings back a new group, they will post the safety guidelines, signed off by the medical team, on the website. 

While limiting social interaction between people outside of one's home is easy for those that are self-quarantined, the rule gets trickier to follow when entering the workspace. Which is why the city has deployed a template outlining six principles each department will abide by when allowing workers to return.

  • Initial testing of each city employee
  • Daily employee temperature check, health screening, and monitoring
  • Workplace distancing and hygiene protocols
  • Mandatory use of masks and other necessary PPE
  • Thorough and frequent cleaning of work-sites and vehicles
  • Continues adequate stockpile of necessary PPE and sanitizing 

When an employee does come to work, these six rules will be strictly followed. 

For those that work outside, it will be easy to avoid many of the ways that individuals can be exposed. It's not as simple for people who work in offices. Duggan said he doesn't want to bring any employees back and have everyone sit in cubicles next to each other. 

RELATED: Duggan: COVID-19 deaths in Detroit trending down, social distancing must continue

"I want to have the reputation that the city of Detroit has the strictest medical protocols in the country for bringing people back to work," said Duggan. "I want every Detroiter that's coming back to work to feel as safe going back to the workplace as I do every single day going into the 11th floor at city hall."

While it has the city's logo on it, the COVID-19 Safe Workplace Standards are intended to be used as a guidebook for all private and public institutions looking at ways to safely reintegrate its workforce back into their place of employment. 

Prior to putting it on the website, Duggan said he had conversations with funeral directors, grocery store owners and nursing home managers who all expressed the same sentiment: help us fight this.

"They said 'we want to fight this, nobody has come forward and told us how or brought us resources," he said. "'They told us to keep our customers six feet apart, but tell us what should we be doing? How do we get the employees tested? What's the protocol?'"

"If you're a private company and want to say 'nobody's told me how to do this,' we didn't start out with great knowledge. We learned when our police force was infected at a rate that none of us could have imagined," said Duggan.

The Detroit Police Departments was one of the hardest-hit sectors of the city after 600 police officers self-quarantined due to possible exposure to COVID-19. With that number down, the city is deploying the same tactics in other departments. Cleaning vehicles consistently and periodically. Wearing facemasks whenever around others. Ensuring a necessary stockpile of personal protective equipment is available.

One of the first industries that may see some of these same tactics used are in grocery stores. Duggan has expressed concern about the employees and customers going shopping at the city's food marts and plans to expand testing to workers there.

The city is also planning on comparing results of COVID-19 cases by department to assess what strategies are working best and how can they be used in other cities around the country.

The city of Detroit plans to have testing at 37 long term care facilities for seniors by May 15.