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More Than 39,000 Federal Employees Have Tested Positive for COVID-19

PortandTerminal.com, July 20, 2020

WASHINGTON – Defence One is reporting that almost 1% of all federal personnel have contracted COVID-19, with cases spiking in recent weeks at many agencies.

Nearly 19,000 civilian employees have contracted COVID-19, in addition to more than 20,000 military members. 

The news comes as thousands of federal workers who had been teleworking from the outset of the pandemic are heading back to their offices, while many more have continued reporting to their normal duty stations without interruption. 

Federal workers over the last several months have complained of insufficient protective supplies, equipment and distancing policies, and continue to raise concerns that agencies are not taking proper precautions before recalling staff to offices. 

Defence One was able to identify the number of reported cases of COVID-19 infection on an agency-by-agency basis in some cases although not all agencies provide data. Here’s what they were able to discover:

  • Defense Department: At Defense, 4,265 civilians have tested positive for the virus. That marks a dramatic increase of 67% since the end of June. The Pentagon entered “phase two” of its reopening plan at the end of June, enabling up to 80% of employees who typically report there to return to their offices. The 20,212 military personnel who have contracted the virus marks a 72% spike this month. Nearly 1,900 Defense contractors have also tested positive. 
  • U.S. Postal Service: Nearly 5,400 USPS employees have tested positive for COVID-19 among its workforce of 630,000. After initially struggling to provide personal protective equipment to its employees, the Postal Service has said it has redoubled its efforts and all essential products and supplies are now available. 
  • Veterans Affairs Department: VA has also seen cases spike in recent weeks, climbing to 3,128 employees. More than a quarter of VA employee cases come from Arizona, California, Florida or Texas, which are all seeing severe outbreaks in general. About one-third of the cases VA facilities in Texas have experienced are currently active. VA employees have expressed significant concern about the lack of personal protective equipment, policies that threaten discipline or loss of pay if they do not come in after exposure and poor communication from management. Forty-one VA employees have died from symptoms related to the virus.
  • Customs and Border Protection: CBP is leading the Homeland Security Department with its case count of 1,426. Cases have dramatically increased at CBP in recent weeks as cases, in general, have skyrocketed in Southern border states. Positive tests in Texas alone have more than doubled, and infected employees in Texas, Arizona and California make up nearly 70% of the agency’s cases. At Immigration and Customs Enforcement, at least 45 employees have tested positive. 
  • Transportation Security Administration: Elsewhere in DHS, cases at TSA have more than doubled in July alone, with a total of 1,171 employees testing positive. Initially, TSA employees contracting the virus were concentrated in the New York area, though at John F. Kennedy International Airport—the epicenter of that outbreak—there has not been a positive test since May 23. Cases in recent weeks have spiked at Florida airports, which now account for 17% of all of TSA’s positive tests. About 2% of TSA’s workforce has now tested positive for the virus. As air travel has increased from its nadir several weeks ago, TSA has walked back its policy of allowing employees to take paid administrative leave if they felt unsafe reporting to work. 
  • State Department: More than 1,400 employees at State have tested positive for COVID-19, while a whopping 7,900 are remaining at home to quarantine. State is not currently reporting its cases domestically, but an update from earlier in the day Friday showed 154 current cases within the department’s stateside workforce. Seventeen State employees have died from the virus. 
  • Health and Human Services Department: HHS has spearheaded and coordinated much of the federal response, and so far 780 employees have tested positive for the virus.
  • Internal Revenue Service: At least 345 IRS employees have tested positive, a figure the National Treasury Employees Union said was likely outdated. Thousands of IRS employees who had been working remotely or who were on paid administrative leave due to the agency’s insufficient telework capacity have since been recalled to the office. 
  • Agriculture Department: At USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service, more than 100 employees have tested positive. The agency has struggled to keep employees safe as hotspots have developed at meat processing plants around the country. FSIS has stopped reporting the total number of cases to employees, stakeholders and its union. A spokesman confirmed only that 32 employees are currently not at work due to a diagnosis. As of late-April, FSIS had 100 confirmed cases. 
  • Bureau of Prisons: At the Justice Department’s Bureau of Prisons, 946 bureau staff have tested positive for COVID-19. About 9,000 federal inmates have also contracted the virus.

The finding that about 1% of federal employees have been infected by COVID-19 really shouldn’t come as much of a surprise as they mirror the reported level of infections nationwide. As of today, Johns Hopkins reports that 3,773,260 people in the US have tested positive for the virus. That represents about 1.15% of the total population of the country.

The fact that even federal workers are complaining of insufficient protective supplies, equipment and distancing policies is most worrying though. What happens if/when those infection numbers start to spike higher and start impacting the basic services that keep the country functioning?

We’ve already witnessed COVID-19 idle an aircraft carrier and close meat factories.

Read the full Defence One article by clicking here.

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