How Marin’s County Employees Pivoted to Respond to a Pandemic

One thousand county staff have shifted roles since March

Since Covid-19’s arrival in Marin, more than 1,000 County employees have moved out of their regular jobs into new positions and hit the ground running. Their new duties entail providing crucial, pandemic-related services.

These staffers are Disaster Service Workers (DSWs). When hired, all California government employees are designated DSWs and understand they may be required to temporarily leave their positions and serve the public in a different capacity during an emergency.

The statistics are remarkable. Over the last six months, Marin County employees have logged more than 150,000 hours responding to the pandemic, with no end in sight. DSWs answered 14,300 calls and replied to more than 6,000 emails that came into Marin’s Covid-19 information center.

According to the County, DSW work has included:

·       managing hotels to house the homeless

·       delivering food and supplies to seniors and other vulnerable residents

·       building a Covid-19 testing system

·       serving as community liaisons

·       contact tracing

·       evaluating and analyzing public data

·       budgeting the County’s limited resources

·       operating a 24/7 emergency operations center

Of course, not every County worker has transitioned into a new position. Sheriff’s deputies, firefighters, emergency dispatchers, probation officers, social workers, mental health professionals and others carry on with their regular duties. But, what happens to all the jobs left unfilled by the DSWs?

“It depends,” Laine Hendricks, a Marin County public information officer, says. “Typically, staff in essential roles continue in their normal roles, and those in the non- or not-as-essential roles are free to fill DSW roles. It’s not a perfect system, however, and some people who fill essential roles also have specialized skills that are needed elsewhere in the response. In those cases, other people in their department may cover for them, or they may split their time among their regular job and their DSW role.”

Though many Marinites consider library services essential, the libraries have been closed to inside visitors since the shelter-in-place orders were issued in March. Much of the Marin County Free Library staff were reassigned as DSWs. According to Sara Jones, director of County library services, some of her staffers are contact tracers, emergency operation center personnel or workers at motels providing emergency shelter for unhoused individuals. Others are spending the downtime setting up learning hubs at South Novato, Civic Center and Point Reyes libraries to help students with distance learning.

Regardless of whether a County employee moved to another position or remained with their department, it has been an unusual time on the job. No one knows when the staffing situation will go back to normal.

“Our residents look to us most when times are hard, and I have seen our employees meet the challenge every single day during this pandemic,” Marin County Administrator Matthew Hymel says. “We’re so fortunate to have employees who have all stepped up and have done amazing work.”

Nikki Silverstein
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