Federal employees have been among those afflicted by the ongoing Coronavirus outbreak across the U.S., but POLITICO is reporting that they’ve been left “angered” by a “confusing jumble of messages” about the administration’s response to the virus’s spread within its own ranks. In one particularly egregious example, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) failed to inform staffers about a confirmed Coronavirus case among workers at a Las Vegas airport, thereby “allowing them to continue working in a potentially infected area,” POLITICO notes. Those at the airport only found out about the case when a control tower was evacuated.
The air traffic control tower at McCarran Airport in Las Vegas is closed because an air traffic controller tested positive for coronavirus https://t.co/rSQ53wVn04
— Steve Lookner (@lookner) March 19, 2020
Mike Perrone, who serves as national president of Professional Aviation Safety Specialists, AFL-CIO, commented:
‘We’ve been getting a lot of mixed information. The president has put out different information, then OMB puts out guidance, and then the DOT secretary puts out guidance and then the FAA administrator puts out guidance. Nobody said nothing for how many hours? And they knew about it? I’m frustrated — very frustrated — because literally people are gonna get sick and people could potentially die or spread it to their families.’
It’s true — the Coronavirus, which has a mortality rate significantly above that of the ordinary seasonal flu, is highly communicable, so a “confusing jumble” of messaging that leaves employees exposed to the virus for hours on end could, quite literally, lead to illness and death. So far, the U.S. has reported some 70,000 cases overall, along with well over 1,000 deaths from the virus.
POLITICO reports that among federal agencies, “no clear directions for reporting disclosures of coronavirus” exist, which has helped facilitate situations like the FAA’s gross negligence.
The responses haven’t been quite as precarious across the entire federal government. For example, the U.S. government’s “Voice of America” media agency notified employees of a positive Coronavirus test within about an hour. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, meanwhile, has been delivering daily updates to employees about the status of Coronavirus infections within their ranks. After confirming their own first case, the Departments of Transportation and Commerce both essentially closed down their headquarters entirely and tasked all employees with working from home.
Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) called on the president to “issue an executive order to all agencies to maximize telework, and do it now” to help address the situation. Many Congressional offices have already been tasking staffers with working from home, including the office of House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), which had a recently departed former staffer test positive for the virus recently. Cases have also been confirmed among staffers working for Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Rep. David Schweikert‘s (R-Ariz.), and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has formally declared a city-wide state of emergency. The city has suffered 231 confirmed cases and 3 deaths, and these numbers all continue to rapidly grow.
Even as those numbers grow, the president has recently been clamoring for the economy to largely re-open in an apparent bid to keep positive economic indicators up. That commentary from the president flies in the face of advice from public health professionals for social distancing to remain in-place in order to stem the spread of the virus.