With COVID-19 cases on the rise nationwide and Washington, D.C.-area school systems wondering whether they’ll reopen for in-person classes in the fall, the Department of Energy will no longer require most employees to return to their offices in the next phase of the agency’s reopening plan.

DoE includes the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which runs the civilian nuclear-weapons programs that maintain and refurbish warheads and bombs. Most of DoE’s 7,000 federal employees in the region, which includes about 1,000 NNSA personnel, have been working remotely since March, when states and localities issued widespread stay-at-home orders in an effort to slow the spread of the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus 2019.

Governors, mayors, and local officials have since lifted most lockdown orders, but cases soared subsequently. Confirmed infections in the Washington region have not risen as sharply as they have in some other states, but large public school systems in counties outside the District of Columbia are still wondering whether they can bring students back to the classroom in the fall.

That has dashed DoE’s plan to proceed anytime soon to Phase 3 of its reopening plan, which originally was supposed to mark a return to essentially pre-COVID-19 operations.

Now, according to a memo from Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette,  “it is unlikely that local conditions in the [Washington area] will support a fully ‘back to normal’ Phase 3 return to the workplace as originally envisioned in the HQ Plan.”

Instead, people who are especially vulnerable to COVID-19, as well as those with children or other dependents to care for, will be allowed to request permission to continue telework whenever the Energy Department does move on from Phase 2 of its reopening plan. During that phase, some 1,400 people returned to the agency’s Forrestal Building in downtown Washington and the Germantown building in nearby suburban Maryland.

“We are not announcing the start of Phase 3 at this time and there is no specific date for the start of Phase 3 at Headquarters,” Brouillette wrote in a statement posted to DoE’s website on Tuesday. 

When Phase 3 does begin, “federal employees will be able to request temporary increased flexibilities,” Brouillette wrote. “These flexibilities will be reviewed on a monthly basis to account for changes in essential services and conditions in the [Washington D.C. area] due to COVID-19.”