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Homeland Security employee apparently violated coronavirus quarantine

A Department of Homeland Security employee who returned from travel to China was told by her supervisor to report to her workplace in early February in apparent violation of a mandatory 14-day coronavirus quarantine period, according to complaints filed Friday by the union that represents the woman's co-workers. 

The DHS employee, who was not identified, works for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in Newark, according to the complaint. After arriving from China, she called a supervisor to ask if she should remain at home under quarantine, but she was told to report to work on Feb. 10, according to Ward Morrow, an attorney for the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents USCIS employees.

Neither the woman nor any of her co-workers have shown symptoms of coronavirus infection, but Morrow said the union has filed a labor grievance and a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The incident raises concerns about adherence to Centers for Disease Control guidance for federal employees returning from China and other areas with known coronavirus transmission, Morrow said.

Morrow said DHS is "supposed to play a leading role in protecting us but isn't able to enforce its own policies with its managers, putting employees and the communities where they live at severe risk."

Sarah Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for USCIS, said the agency is fully complying with CDC guidelines that instruct federal employees who return from China to remain at home for 14 days.

"U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services continues to monitor the coronavirus situation in close coordination with the White House, the Department of Homeland Security and various public health organizations," Rodriguez said. "DHS has issued guidance mandating that employees returning from China adhere to a quarantine protocol."

According to Morrow, the woman informed her co-workers that she had recently arrived from China and told them she was self-quarantining at meetings by sitting apart on one side of the room.

The others staffers were alarmed, Morrow said, and reported the incident to the union.

"They were scared that they could contract the virus, and it would spread to their families, anyone along the communing path, and the building itself, which is used by the general public," Morrow said. "It put an awful lot of people at risk."

The USCIS employee works at the agency's office at 970 Broad St. in Newark, according to the complaint. She used the elevator, a meeting room on the 16th floor and her office on the 14th floor, according to the complaint.

 

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