Employees at Rhode Island's Department of Human Service are in demand during the coronavirus pandemic because thousands of unemployed Rhode Islanders are applying for food stamps and other benefits.
Yet, most can't work remotely and must come in to locations including the Providence office -- despite two positive tests there.
"Everyone is very anxious. Everyone is very stressed. We're working under very harsh conditions," said Union President Rafael Martinez of Local 2882, Council 94, which represents the DHS staffers.
"We had two members that tested positive. Immediately, around 10 to 14 coworkers were placed on quarantine," Martinez said of the Providence office.
The Pawtucket office was shut down on Thursday after an employee there tested positive, and NBC 10 learned at least two dozen coworkers in Pawtucket are now being tested for the virus.
But while Providence and other field office are closed to the public, employees are still working behind the scenes.
"We are trying to work with the department, to see if we can try to get everyone to telework," Martinez said.
So far, that hasn't happened.
Part of the problem is the sensitive nature of information DHS employees handle, including social security numbers and financial information.
"It's very difficult to do that," Martinez said. "The department is trying to move fast, but not fast enough."
Meanwhile, employees are speaking out on social media. One posted that she "tested positive yesterday, and god knows I am worried...stay strong guys, we will get through this."
Other employees told NBC 10 they were given masks and a small spray bottle of hand sanitizer late Friday afternoon. But they worry it's too little, too late.
"We don't want to get sick," Martinez said.
Alisha Pina, who is a spokeswoman for DHS, told NBC 10 in an email, "DHS is working with the Rhode Island Department of Health, and following their guidance. Even when putting proper preventative measures in place, such as screening, this is a highly contagious virus. Most staff have provided their own masks, but additional masks are being distributed to offices today."
Pina also stressed how important it is for employees to stay home if they feel any symptoms. DHS employees are eligible for up to two weeks of paid sick time under new measures enacted due to the coronva virus pandemic.
"We strongly reiterate that if an employee is not feeling well or exhibiting any of the symptoms of COVID-19, they should not come to work," Pina said.