City may require work from home if coronavirus spreads

City employees in Seattle might be required to work from home if the coronavirus outbreak worsens, Mayor Jenny Durkan told CNBC on Friday. 

“If people don’t have to come into work and can work from home, we’re encouraging that and we may go to a mandatory state of that,” Durkan said on “Squawk Alley.”

The city of Seattle employs more than 15,000 people, Durkan said. 

King County, where Seattle is located, has the most coronavirus cases in the U.S. with 51 as of Friday morning, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Twelve of the 14 deaths in the U.S. are in King County. 

Snohomish County, which sits just north of King County, also has 18 cases. 

There are more than 100,000 cases of the coronavirus globally and more than 230 in the U.S. 

Durkan’s comments Friday come one day after Seattle’s City Council approved an emergency declaration, giving the mayor broad authority to respond to the outbreak. 

Seattle also has offices for large corporations such as Microsoft and Amazon, with which the city has been closely communicating regarding work policies, Durkan said. 

After an employee tested positive for the coronavirus, Amazon on Thursday asked employees at its offices in Seattle and Bellevue, Washington, to work from home if they can until the end of March. 

Two Microsoft employees in Washington state have been diagnosed with the coronavirus, the company said Thursday. 

The tech giant on Wednesday told employees in the Puget Sound area in Washington and California’s Bay Area to work from home if they can until March 25. Microsoft also has restricted employee travel.

The University of Washington, which is based in Seattle, on Friday announced all classes and exams would be conducted remotely until March 20, when the current academic quarter concludes. The school plans to resume in-person classes on March 30.

According to Seattle law, an emergency declaration gives Durkan the ability to impose curfews, restrict access to certain streets and order businesses to close. Durkan did not suggest the outbreak could get to that point.

But Durkan said she was particularly concerned about the small businesses and gig economy workers in Seattle who are ill-suited to handle declining economic activity or outright work stoppages. She said she discussed the issue Thursday with Vice President Mike Pence, who was in Washington state. 

“Our large companies have a lot of resiliency built into them,” Durkan said. “But we’re seeing a number of small businesses that may be impaired … I want to get as much direct federal relief as we can into the hands of those businesses.” 

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