This Thursday, July 9, 2020, photo shows empty cubicles are empty at the State Office Building in Juneau. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

Opinion: State office buildings aren’t islands

State should make a reasonable effort to protect its employees.

  • Thursday, August 26, 2021 12:26pm
  • Opinion

By Dawn Dulebohn

Despite individual views on politics, vaccinations, and individual freedoms COVID-19 is alive and well again in Juneau. The website lists 350 new cases here since Aug. 10, 2021. The City and Borough of Juneau have put the city back on Level 3- High alert which means masks must be worn in all indoor public areas, people must maintain at least 6 feet of social distancing, indoor gatherings are limited to 20 people, personal services are by appointment only, and restaurants, bars, and gyms are at 50% capacity regardless of vaccination status.

Recently, the Legislature has voted to reinstate mandatory masking in the Capitol Building. The Federal Building and the courthouse have never ceased their COVID-19 mitigation efforts by requiring masks, social distancing and elevator occupancy limits.

What is my point you may ask?

The state office buildings have never required mandatory masking, social distancing or elevator occupancy limits in Juneau or Anchorage despite the community risk in those areas since the pandemic began in early 2020. Even when the governor put mandates in place for the state, they were never posted or enforced within the state buildings. When the Atwood Building in Anchorage posted mandatory mitigation last year as numbers in the area soared and the municipality enacted mitigations, they were made to take down postings. When employees inquired why that was, they were told that the Municipality of Anchorage does not have jurisdiction over state buildings. Despite numerous requests from employees in Juneau when the CBJ put mitigation efforts in place, the only mention of safety measures for employees was when the governor issued a memo recommending masking in late 2020. The Facilities Department at the SOB posted copies of the memo at entrances, never replaced them when they were torn down and never enforced them. Those memos only stayed up a few months.

In the age of “but, I’m vaccinated”, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website reminds us that vaccinated persons are very unlikely to die from COVID, but they can still contract and spread COVID-19. Every day I come to work early so I can watch the only two working elevators (the third has been broken on and off for years) cram full of both masked and unmasked persons with no regard for social distancing while I wait for an elevator to arrive with only 1 other person so I can social distance. My wait is usually about 20 minutes since there are no postings about elevator occupancy, no one respects that I was waiting. In the hallways I see people not social distancing, not wearing masks, and not respecting the fact that there is still a very real pandemic outside the front doors. Did I mention that the state is in the process of recalling all state employees that have been teleworking over the last year and a half? Employees are all slated to be back in the office in two weeks (Sept. 7, 2021). When the recalls were announced very innocent PSAs showed up recommending that employees utilize “Space & Grace” and “Acknowledge Comfort Zones” to allow every employee to make their own decision on whether to mask up or not.

As a state employee, between the non-existent COVID mitigations and the mass layoffs that were just two days shy of putting thousands of people like me out of a job this year, it doesn’t seem that the health and well-being of Alaska’s state employees is at all a priority. Why is the state not showing the same level of concern regarding COVID as the federal buildings and the CBJ? Is there not an inherent responsibility for the state to make a reasonable effort to protect its employees in a time of a known threat? I would like to see our employer show that we are respected and valued by implementing mandatory COVID mitigations that are on par with the community we live in and don’t feel like that is too much to ask.

• Dawn Dulebohn is a Douglas resident in the City and Borough of Juneau. She has lived in Juneau since 2008 and worked for the state since 2017.Columns, My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire. Have something to say? Here’s how to submit a My Turn or letter.

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