The time for the the Suffolk County Courts to reopen is getting nearer. NY pause officially expires on May 28 for Long Island, NYC, and the Mid Hudson Regions. That does not mean that the courts will necessarily reopen on May 28. The courts in Nassau and Suffolk will reopen when the region of Long Island reaches the metrics laid out by the Governor. Once the Governor gives the approval for the Long Island region to open up, it is expected that the courts in Suffolk will begin a Phase 1 reopening, with minimal staffing, within a couple of days of the Governors approval to open the Long Island region. It is anticipated that Long Island could meet the metrics by sometime next week, but nothing is for certain. Everything is still very fluid.
When Long Island does reach the metrics, the initial phase will prompt the reopening of all court facilities in Suffolk County, with minimal staffing. All employees will not be required to report at that time. Before the reopening, the union will be given an opportunity to conduct a walk through of each facility to ensure health and safety protocols are in place (signage about face masks and barriers to entry for at risk individuals, floor markings, hand sanitizer dispensers and sanitizing spray/wipes for surface cleaning, work areas with sufficient space to ensure social distancing, providing masks, gloves if required or requested, etc.).
Phase 1 of the courts reopening will include the return of judges and chambers staff (though proceedings are still going to be conducted virtually to the same extent as they were previously, from chambers as opposed to the judge's home) as well as a team of clerical and/or support staff, including court messengers, to begin clearing backlogs, data entry, processing mail, delivering mail to court buildings around the county, etc. There will also be an increase in the number of uniformed personnel required to report to work but, like everyone else, not all uniformed personnel will be required to report. There are some employees who are older and/or have underlying health issues which makes them more vulnerable to serious illness if they contract Covid 19. I have been told that supervisors will do their best to avoid requiring those individuals to report to work in the early phase of the reopening, however there are no guarantees. If these employees perform job functions that can be done virtually from home, the employee may be allowed to work from home. That will depend on the court's needs. The same holds true for employees who have childcare issues. Eventually, as the reopening progresses to other phases, more and more employees will be required to return to work. Depending on the length of time the Suffolk Courts remain in Phase 1, staff may be assigned on a rotational basis. That decision has not been made yet, due to the fluidity of the metrics on Long Island as a whole. Anyone who is not required to report to work during Phase 1 will remain on excused leave. Unfortunately, we are being told that once Phase 1 begins, employees who report to work at a court facility will no longer receive minute for minute comp time (this is an issue that the union will pursue with OCA separately).
Those employees that do report to work will be required to wear masks and maintain social distancing. It is a requirement not a choice. Masks should be in place prior to entering the court building. Masks are not a substitute for maintaining social distancing. As we have been told over and over again, masks are not being worn to protect the individual from potentially getting infected from others, but rather for the purpose of preventing others from getting infected from the individual. If someone, a court officer or another coworker, reminds you to put your mask on, please comply. This is not the time to argue over something that is extremely important, regardless of one's personal opinion. Again, wearing masks in a court facility is not an option, it is a mandate. Please respect the heath and safety of coworkers. This would be the heroic thing to do. Masks will be provided to all personnel.
We are living in a different world and we are quickly learning that we will have to adapt to a new way of living. It is not easy and can be very stressful. Something as simple as walking into the building through the employees entrance will be a little bit more difficult. It is possible that there could be a line to get into the building through the employees entrance due to limited space in the vestibule, and even more limited elevator capacity. Use the stairs if you are able to. Allow yourselves enough time in the morning to get to your work station on time. This may alleviate some stress. Lunch time, which we all took for granted prior to Covid 19, will be different. Employees should not be having lunch together in areas where social distancing may be impossible. One can't eat with a mask on. Life is no longer the same and we will have to adapt. There really is no choice. A lot of it may just come down to using some common sense.
As a reminder, when the Governor announces that the Long Island region can reopen, the courts will be moving fairly quickly to begin a Phase 1 reopening, probably within a couple of days from the time of the Governor's announcement. At that time, employees can anticipate calls from their supervisors. It is anticipated that the Phase 1 reopening could likely be Monday, June 1 but that date has not yet been determined. The timing of the Governors announcement to reopen Long Island is the key and the date to begin the Phase 1 reopening of the courts can be sooner or even later than June 1.
As I learn more, I will do my best to keep you informed as I get the information from OCA and the DAJ's office. The information is continually changing and what might be true for the courts in NYC or Upstate, may not be the case for Suffolk. Much of the information that is rumored, and being placed on social media, is not entirely accurate. Some information that is out there has not been verified and is wrong, and unfortunately causes undue stress. I will try to get the information to you as quickly as I receive it. We will get through this together. Please stay safe.