Regular updates on COVID-19 case counts provided by the Department of Homeland Security to a congressional committee indicate “troubling” infection trends in some of the components, said the panel’s chairman.
In a letter today to Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf, House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said the department data over the past two weeks reflect a 52 percent increase in positive COVID-19 cases at Customs and Border Protection while the Transportation Security Administration saw a 43 percent increase.
“According to data regularly provided to this Committee, the number of employees who currently have the virus is the highest it has been since reporting began in March,” Thompson wrote. “The number of employees who are in quarantine or self-isolating has similarly continued to rise, with a 27 percent increase in the last two weeks alone.”
CBP and TSA account for 70 percent of all DHS employees who have tested positive for COVID-19; more than 2,000 employees of the two agencies have the coronavirus as of today. Five CBP employees and six TSA workers have died from the disease.
Texas has the highest rate of COVID-positive CBP employees, with 504 cases there as of Thursday out of 1,197 total across the agency. The greatest infection site for TSA staff has been John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, where 116 employees fell ill; in all, 1,033 TSA employees are confirmed to have contracted the virus.
The Secret Service, meanwhile, has seen a 1,000 percent increase in its employees testing positive for COVID-19 over the past month, Thompson said, citing data provided to the committee.
“As these numbers continue to increase, the Committee is concerned about the Department’s ability to protect its workforce,” Thompson wrote. “…As the number of DHS employees who have fallen ill during this pandemic continues to rise at an alarming rate, I urge you to take the steps necessary to protect all of the DHS workforce.”
On a May trip to visit frontline workers at the border, Wolf said that “protecting the DHS workforce is obviously a big part of what we are doing in that COVID environment so making sure that we are getting the right PPE, the right materials to our frontline officers whether it’s men and women in Border Patrol here today, whether it is our OFO officers, our TSA officers, our ICE agents, making sure that they have the right materials but also the right guidance.”
“They are highly encouraged to wear PPE,” he said. “And again, everyone I saw even folks that really weren’t coming into contact with me that I saw at a distance everyone was wearing PPE, so I don’t think that’s an issue at all.”