(TNS) — California drivers have few reasons to go to the Department of Motor Vehicles during the coronavirus outbreak.
President Donald Trump has said he’ll postpone an upcoming deadline for people to obtain Real ID cards, while the DMV put drive tests on hold and urged law enforcement to exercise discretion when dealing with drivers whose license and registration records expire over the next two months.
The DMV also won’t let people come in without appointments, which has contributed to an 82 percent drop in daily visits compared to this time last month.
Despite the lack of activity, DMV locations remain open, and thousands of state workers are going into offices that some consider unsafe. The new coronavirus has already struck one major call center, and some fear more of their colleagues could soon test positive.
DMV Director Steve Gordon says the department still has important transactions to process, such as reclaiming impounded vehicles, reinstating suspended or revoked driver licenses, adding endorsements to commercial driver licenses and getting identification to those in underserved populations.
“Governor Gavin Newsom issued a stay at home order for all Californians, except as needed for essential critical infrastructure sector,” Gordon said in a written statement. “DMV services are essential. The DMV licenses drivers, enforces driver safety, licenses local delivery vehicles, and long-haul fleets, as well as commercial truckers. DMV continues to assess how to accommodate customers in support of critical services in the state while following public health guidance.”
Newsom’s administration has given California state agencies guidance on expanding telecommuting opportunities for state workers. It’s up to supervisors to decide who can work for home and who is “essential” at a workplace.
While some at the DMV have been given the opportunity to get paid to work from home, others are facing a difficult choice: Arrive in person or lose money or vacation time by not coming in.
Nearly 1 in 4 call center workers did not show up to work on Wednesday, while an additional 13 percent of field office employees had unscheduled absences, according to the DMV.
Riverside call center employees are particularly concerned. The DMV told them the branch would reopen one day after a deep clean was performed on Tuesday due to a worker testing positive for COVID-19, according to an internal memo obtained by The Bee.
One Riverside employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of workplace retaliation, expressed concerns the DMV wasn’t taking the issue seriously enough and had not been providing employees enough space for recommended social distance.
The worker explained there were typically about 200 employees in the call center at any given time, with many of them being tightly packed into cubicles with low partitions at shoulder level.
“I’m frustrated,” the employee said. “You really don’t matter. The public does, but you don’t because you’re qualified ‘essential.’ If you’re not supposed to go anywhere, why are you still there?”
A month ago, the DMV saw about 95,000 field office visits per day. Since it moved to appointment-only service on March 19, visits have dropped to about 17,000 per day — a reduction of 82 percent.
The DMV’s message to Riverside workers encouraged the employees to “discuss telework or other options” with their supervisors if they had concerns. It also informed them that the Riverside Public Health Department “confirmed it is okay to occupy the building.”
The department did not share details about how many of its employees across the state have tested positive for coronavirus, though it expressed a commitment to protecting its workforce.
“The health and safety of our employees and customers is the DMV’s top priority,” Gordon said.
©2020 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.