Baltimore Sun: Some Baltimore businesses cancel fall plans to bring workers back to offices, others reassessing as COVID numbers rise

By Colin Campbell
August 14, 2021

The following is an excerpt from the original Baltimore Sun story.

Joe White was disappointed when the companywide email arrived. But he wasn’t surprised.

Baltimore Gas & Electric informed employees it would no longer allow those vaccinated against COVID-19 to take off their masks when working indoors but outside their homes, following the city of Baltimore’s reinstated indoor mask mandate. And the natural gas and electricity utility is reconsidering its plans to bring more remote workers back to offices amid another wave of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations attributed to the more contagious delta variant.

White, 51, has worked at BGE for 30 years. He has embraced the benefits of working from home in Laurel, like more time spent with his wife, Tiah, and J.J., their 9-year-old son. The utility training center manager doesn’t mind further delaying his full-time return to the office; his disappointment stems from “where we’re headed with the pandemic.”

“If it’s done out of caution and they want employees to be safe, that’s what I want as well,” he said.

With nearly 60% of Marylanders vaccinated against COVID, many employers eyed Labor Day, when students will be back in classrooms, as a logical time to begin returning to the office. That was before the state began reporting hundreds of new cases per day and the number of hospitalized patients more than tripled.

The resurgent pandemic and the city’s reinstated indoor masking order, which took effect Aug. 9, set off a flurry of corporate activity, with managers revising their expectations about when and how remote employees might return to the office. Now, some employers have put plans on pause, others are forging ahead, and more still are keeping their options open as they monitor the spread of the delta variant.

The outcome of their decisions will particularly affect Baltimore’s downtown, which brimmed with tourists and city workers before the pandemic emptied much of the city center. The lack of workers and visitors decimated demand for lunchtime haunts, after-work watering holes and many of the area’s shops and services establishments.

Many Baltimore workplaces are committed to safely bringing employees back to the office, “but the schedule for returning is being adjusted on a month-to-month basis,” said Shelonda Stokes, president of the Downtown Partnership, which promotes downtown and counts 650 businesses as members.

“The increased number of cases, and the number of unvaccinated people who are contracting [COVID-19] and being hospitalized, has made businesses just take a pause and reflect on where things are right now, and maybe where they’ll be in three to four weeks,” said Don Fry, President and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee, a regional organization representing more than 500 businesses.

“People are reassessing,” Fry said.

Read the complete article.

Source: The Baltimore Sun

Also see: Gov. Hogan Not Considering New Restrictions; Mayor Scott Reinstates Indoor Mask Mandate for Baltimore