Rising numbers of COVID-19 infections among Department of Homeland Security employees raise questions about access to testing and a strategy to vaccinate the components, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee said.
In a letter Thursday to Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said infection numbers “have continued to increase at an alarming rate” with DHS reporting a new record number of confirmed COVID-19 cases among its employees each week this month. The current number of cases is more than double that reported to the committee in July, when Thompson first wrote to Wolf about the department’s then record-high rates.
The Transportation Security Administration reported today that the agency has 821 employees with active COVID-19 infections, and 4,338 employees have tested positive since the beginning of the pandemic. Eleven TSA employees and one screening contractor have died from COVID-19.
Customs and Border Protection has had 4,451 employees test positive for COVID-19, and 17 have died. Together, the two components account for 74 percent of active cases and 68 percent of overall cases at DHS.
“While I recognize that many of the Department’s employees are on the front lines and that infection rates have increased across the nation, it appears that the Department is failing to take simple steps to limit transmission of the virus,” Thompson wrote to Wolf today. “Specifically, I understand that the Department is not testing employees who conduct mission-essential travel and, therefore, are at a higher risk of exposure to COVID-19.”
Thompson called it “troubling” that some DHS employees who must travel “have to rely on local health resources if they need a test, even though DHS recently awarded four contracts worth a potential total of $2 billion to support testing throughout the Department and its components.”
“It is the Department’s responsibility to ensure the health and safety of its frontline employees and their equal access to reliable testing capabilities nationwide,” he said. “This is critical since testing capacity at many local facilities has been overwhelmed by the surge in cases across the United States.”
The chairman asked that the committee be provided with information on COVID-19 testing of DHS employees by Dec. 30, along with “each component’s plans for providing its employees access to the COVID-19 vaccine, including an explanation for how vaccinations will be prioritized based on job description or location.”