California state offices will close in response to Gov. Newsom’s stay-at-home order

California is closing state government offices in response to the stay-at-home order Gov. Gavin Newsom issued Thursday, according to an email sent to state departments.

With some exceptions, state offices will close Monday and remain closed for three weeks, according to an email Human Resources Department Director Eraina Ortega sent to state department leaders.

All state workers who are not performing "critical functions" should telework if they can, according to the email. Those who aren't performing critical functions should be reassigned if possible, and those who can't telework should be given administrative time off — a type of paid leave for state workers.

Department leaders are responsible for determining what is critical. CalHR provided a list including leadership, emergency management, public health and safety, unemployment claims processing and other functions.

Newsom's order tightly restricts social gatherings and business in areas where hospitals are at risk of becoming overwhelmed. The stronger restrictions are triggered when a region's intensive care unit capacity drops below 15%.

Four out of five regions in the state, including the Greater Sacramento Region, likely will hit that threshold early this month, Newsom said. The fifth region, the Bay Area, could reach the threshold by the middle of the month. The office closures will start Monday regardless of the thresholds, according to the email.

Newsom's order came as positive tests reached record highs in the state, with the average number of daily new cases climbing to 18,591 on Thursday.

State offices have been affected by the surge, including the Governor's Office, where an employee tested positive Wednesday.

The California Highway Patrol notified employees at its headquarters building of six positive tests this week, and positive test notices grew more frequent at the Department of Motor Vehicles' headquarters in November.

The Professional Engineers in California Government, a state union representing about 11,000 workers, wrote to Ortega Wednesday urging her to minimize in-person work and strengthen state protocols around testing and prevention.

Ted Toppin, the union's executive director, said the rate at which he has been receiving notices of positive tests at his members' workplaces has reached 10 to 12 per day. Most of the workers the union represents work at Caltrans, the Department of Water Resources, the Air Resources Board and the Water Resources Control Board.

"I'm happy to hear they're moving in this direction," Toppin said. "Cases are surging, and they're surging in state workplaces too."

State departments are much better prepared to shift quickly to remote work than they were during the pandemic's first surge in the spring. Departments struggled to develop telework policies and ramp up IT capabilities to enable remote work after the Newsom administration directed them to work remotely wherever possible.

More government services have moved online, including many DMV services.

As the initial surge receded, the administration said state offices should be staffed at about 25%, with the rest teleworking. The state has been preparing for telework to be a permanent part of state employment.

Departments have developed remote work policies, equipped many workers with laptops and cell phones and taken other steps such as adopting electronic document signatures.

Workers are still waiting for the state to set a policy for reimbursing work-from-home expenses, while a couple departments have begun reimbursing workers for phone and internet.

Ortega's email lists the following categories for critical functions:

— Government Leadership

— Emergency Management

— Social Services/Education

— Information Technology/ Communication

— Public Safety/Regulatory Enforcement

— Medical/Health

— Critical Infrastructure

— Food Supply

— Environmental Protection

— Public Information

— Unemployment Insurance Claims Processing

— 24/7 Institutions (prisons, state hospitals, veterans homes, etc.)

— Essential Government Services

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