State Transportation HQ in Salem shuttered after employee tests positive for coronavirus

The ODOT building on Salem’s Capitol Mall, closed on March 27, 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

NOTE: Salem Reporter is providing free access to its content related to the coronavirus as a community service. Subscriptions are vital to sustain this service. Please join us.

Update: This story has been updated with a response from The Oregon Department of Transportation.

The Oregon Department of Transportation has shut down its building in downtown Salem after an employee tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

On Friday morning, a sign was posted at the department’s Transportation Building, located at 355 Capitol St N.E., stated that the building is closed and will reopen on Monday, March. 30.

An email, obtained by the Salem Reporter, sent by the department’s human resources director to all of the building’s employees said agency officials were notified on Thursday, March 26, that an employee at the headquarters building had tested positive for the novel coronavirus. The email said that the Transportation Building was closed for sanitation and cleaning purposes and would remain closed through the weekend but would reopen on Monday.

In a statement, the department confirmed that the building closed because an employee notified their manager they had tested positive for COVID-19. According to the statement, the department has contracted with a service to clean the building using disinfectants that are in accordance with protocols from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. All surfaces except for paper will be cleaned. 

“Since the governor’s executive order, only about 40 employees worked in the building on Friday, using social distancing guidelines,” the department said. “Those not on leave are telecommuting today.”

This is the only known case of COVID0-19 among the Oregon Department of Transportation’s employees, according to the statement.

On Monday Gov. Kate Brown issued an executive order that directed state offices and buildings to close to the “maximum extent possible” and to minimize in-person interactions to stop the spread of the virus. The order directed state agencies to employ telecommuting and to enact social distancing measures at offices where employees had to be at work.

The Oregon Department of Administrative Services signed agreements last week with SEIU Local 503 and AFSCME Council 75, two large unions representing state employees, regarding telecommuting and leave policy in response to the outbreak.

The agreement states that management must notify employees within one business day if they become aware that an employee has been exposed to the novel coronavirus.

Ben Morris, communications director for SEIU Local 503, said in an email that they haven’t heard anything about the exposure at the Transportation Building.

“Our message to the state, and all employers in Oregon, is that in order to protect public health they need to remove financial barriers to keeping people at home,” he said. “If people are worried about missing a paycheck or getting in trouble for calling out, then they’re more likely to show up to work sick and that puts everyone at risk. State agencies should quickly move employees to telecommuting. If telecommuting is not an option, employees should be placed on paid administrative leave.”

All of the department’s offices are closed to the public. However, construction projects will continue with social distancing guidelines. Some DMV offices remain open for commercial driver license applicants. 

According to the department, over 2,000, or 40%, of its employees telecommuted statewide this week.