Monday, May 20, 2024

The Middlesex County Registry of Deeds Building in East Cambridge is closed to the public but has staff inside amid a coronavirus spread. (Photo: cmh2315fl via Flickr)

On Tuesday, workers at the Middlesex South Registry Of Deeds learned that someone in their office had been quarantined on coronavirus infection fears – following the earlier testing of a worker in the attached Middlesex Probate and Family Court that, they were told, came up negative.

To some, it looked like what they’d been worried about for weeks coming true, and the inevitable result of roughly 100 employees between various offices coming in to work, many commuting by train on a rotating basis to work through real estate transactions deemed essential by Gov. Charlie Baker.

“You have people coming in from all over the state to Cambridge, possibly with the virus in their system. And that’s going to spread and be a bigger problem for Cambridge if something’s not done soon,” said a worker at the shared registry and probate building at 208 Cambridge St., East Cambridge, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“There are a lot of people that are scared,” the worker said last week. “There’s a lot of people coming to work that have multiple children at home and elderly people that they take care of. It’s a big concern, and I don’t think the state is listening or doing the right thing.”

The buildings are closed to the public since coronavirus struck Massachusetts, and some staffers work from home; others come in and work alternate days to process matters filed electronically and by mail. There are no masks offered to workers, but register Maria Curtatone has provided hand sanitizer and gloves and has tried to ensure staff stay 6 feet away from each other, the worker said. Unfortunately, the safeguard is “not that realistic. You still have to come in close proximity with people to talk to them.”

Over time, a couple of workers have reportedly been removed from the probate offices for quarantine with possible cases of Covid-19 infection.

Steps taken

With Baker’s order that the office is essential, Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin has done what he can to keep workers safe, spokeswoman Deb O’Malley said Thursday. With the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ordering the building closed to the public, only someone with a rare emergency filing would be allowed in; and inside is a skeleton staff. The department has been delivering laptops to registries around the state to enable more staff to work from home.

“We’re working to get any masks that we can and we’re providing them to employees who deal with the public,” she said. “For instance, our elections division has candidates filing at the window. Our public records division has people coming in to be sworn in as notaries. Corporations has people coming to the window and filing. The Registry of Deeds does not have that – and while there may be people in the building … there’s a skeleton crew so they can be properly spaced.”

Workers were under the impression the Suffolk registry was operating under different rules and had been allowed to close for coronavirus concerns – but in fact it was the Trial Court that shut the building down temporarily, and operations were set to resume Tuesday.

State Rep. Mike Connolly said Friday that he had spoken about Covid-19 precautions with Curtatone, who detailed “extensive efforts her office is taking to do all they can keep their workers safe. Under the circumstances it sounds like great efforts are being made.”

But on Tuesday, with the early morning news of a coworkers’ quarantine, a registry worker responded gloomily to their concerns proving true.

“This is bad,” the worker said.