A good many of the state government’s nearly 40,000 employees will return to working at home, at least three days a week, if possible, in hopes of lessening exposure to COVID during this fourth surge of infections, hospitalizations and deaths.

After several days of negotiation and consideration, Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne issued guidance late Thursday to the cabinet secretaries and elected officials that run state government agencies.

Dardenne noted that the daily positive case reports over the last week have been the highest since February. Louisiana has the highest per capita growth of COVID-19 cases in the nation. This has resulted in the White House designating Louisiana as a “state of concern”.

As one of Louisiana’s largest employers, how state government handles the surge in COVID infections could influence what private companies do.

Dardenne ordered that all state offices remain fully operational, adequately staffed, and open to the public.

Agency heads were tasked with identifying those employees whose physical presence is required and those whose tasks could be handled remotely. Agency heads also needed to put in place procedures for monitoring attendance, performance, and productivity.

“Management personnel are to give special attention to identifying employees whose job duties cannot be remotely performed,” Dardenne wrote. “These employees are required to report for duty as directed. Supervisory personnel must ensure accountability for in-office and remote workers by implementing protocols for monitoring attendance, performance, and productivity.”

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All state employees who work for an agency overseen by the governor, which is most of them, are required to wear masks at work and to physically distant themselves from other employees – regardless of vaccination status. Teleconferenced meetings are to become the norm again and limited elevator occupancy in public buildings has returned.

All state employees will be required to be tested if they show symptoms or if they are exposed to someone who tests positive for COVID.

Handshakes and hugs are to be avoided.

State government employs about 38,130 people – 16,817 of whom are in the Baton Rouge area, 4,378 in New Orleans and 2,691 in Lafayette – making state government one of Louisiana’s single largest employers.

Entergy, the largest corporation in the state employs 12,500. ExxonMobil, the largest manufacturer, employs 6,000 directly and through contractors in Baton Rouge. Hilton Riverside New Orleans, the city’s largest private employer, employing about 5,000 workers.

Email Mark Ballard at mballard@theadvocate.com.