WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. government is restricting some of its 2.1 million employees from travelling and encouraging people to work from home to slow the spread of the coronavirus, which has infected 111,000 people in 105 countries.
Federal agencies' directives to workers on how to manage the risks of the disease vary widely, however.
Nearly a quarter of federal workers are in the Washington, DC metropolitan area, where a church popular with government officials has been shuttered after a rector tested positive for coronavirus, and two recent conferences have reported attendees had the virus.
OFFICE OF PERSONNEL MANAGEMENT
The office, which sets personnel policy for the government, in a March 7 memo https://www.chcoc.gov/content/coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19-additional-guidance encouraged agencies to review emergency plans to ensure "continuity of operations."
Those plans include relying on employees to work from home and "social distancing," where people refrain from getting near each other or touching.
So far five lawmakers in Congress have self-quarantined after being exposed to someone who was later diagnosed with the coronavirus.
A total of 530 elected, voting lawmakers and more than 10,000 staffers currently work in the U.S. Capitol building and surrounding offices; they can only cast most votes in person. “Right now we see no reason why we should not proceed to do the work we need to do,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Monday.
Members, who go on recess next week, have been told to develop their own policies on hand shaking and meetings, and to make plans for staff to work from home, but haven't received explicit advice on travel, or gathering in large groups.
Covid-19, the flu-like disease caused by the virus, is more dangerous for people 60 and over, health officials warn. The average age for lawmakers at the beginning of the 116th Congress was 57.6 years for Representatives and 62.9 years for Senators.
About 26,000 people work in the Department of Defense's headquarters building in Arlington, Virginia.
The DOD has issued https://www.whs.mil/Coronavirus multiple, tiered directives to civilian employees and military personnel about the virus, including encouraging them practice social distancing, and how they can work from home if their kids' school closes.
Apart from the travel advisories https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/ea/novel-coronavirus-hubei-province--china.html warning American citizens against visiting several countries and taking cruises, the agency has not issued a blanket, public advisory for its staff.
DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY
The 240,000 employee agency includes the Transportation Security Administration that secures public transportation systems, Customs and Border Protection which screens travellers at borders, and tens of thousands of detention beds where asylum-seekers are held.
Asked about its coronavirus preparations, a spokeswoman said the department has sent at least 14 all-DHS employee messages since January 22 on the topic, but didn't elaborate.
DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY
The department, with 14,000 employees and 95,000 contract workers, barred travel to China and Iran, which are hard hit by the coronavirus, and asked employees to defer in-person meetings with people who live in China, Iran, Italy or South Korea.
It also cancelled all non-essential international travel and is looking at plans to cut back on domestic travel.
THE JUSTICE DEPARTMENT
The nearly 115,000 person agency, which includes the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Bureau of Prisons, said it was monitoring the situation but did not describe further steps.
THE FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION
The 1,100 or so people who work at the various offices of the FTC, which enforce antitrust law and go after consumer scams, have been instructed to minimize non-critical travel, international and domestic, and to refrain from attending non-critical professional gatherings.
THE COMMODITY FUTURES TRADING COMMISSION
The CFTC, which has about 700 workers, has cancelled some foreign travel and is allowing essential overseas trips on a case-by-case basis. Domestic travel is permitted.
THE FEDERAL DEPOSIT INSURANCE CORPORATION
This agency with 5,800 staffers, said that it had taken steps to limit non-essential international travel.
SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION
The agency is following government advice that staff stay home when they are sick or when they have returned from coronavirus hotspots.
(Reporting by Diane Bartz, Heather Timmons, Susan Cornwell, Michelle Price, David Shepardson, Sarah Lynch, David Morgan, Humera Pamuk. Editing by Heather Timmons and Michael Perry)
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