Second EPA employee tests positive for coronavirus

Second EPA employee tests positive for coronavirus
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A second Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) employee has tested positive for coronavirus, and another worker has come into contact with someone who tested positive.

The EPA sent an email to staff Thursday informing them that the two employees work in the New England region, which covers Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont. A copy of the email was obtained by The Hill.

The employees were last in the office March 11, the email said, adding that potentially affected personnel will be directly notified as soon as possible.

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The EPA did not immediately respond to The Hill's questions about the email.

The Hill first reported Wednesday that an employee at the EPA's office in Helena, Mont., tested "presumed positive" for coronavirus. Three employees in a different regional office also may have been exposed to the virus.

Politico has reported that an Energy Department employee based in Washington, D.C., has been diagnosed with the virus.

In recent days, the government has taken steps to try to prevent the spread of the virus to its workers.

An EPA official told The Hill in an email earlier this week that it has "authorized voluntary unscheduled leave and telework for all EPA employees across the nation" and that it is encouraging those who can work remotely to not go into the office.

Kyla Bennett, director of the New England chapter of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility told The Hill that she didn't think the agency acted quickly enough to tell employees to work from home.

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"The EPA people, especially the ones in the regions, are putting their lives on the line every single day, traveling around their regions, doing inspections and trying to keep us safe from contaminants," Bennett said.

"The fact that [EPA Administrator] Andrew WheelerAndrew WheelerOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Coal company sues EPA over power plant pollution regulation | Automakers fight effort to freeze fuel efficiency standards | EPA watchdog may probe agency's response to California water issues Coal company sues EPA over power plant pollution regulation OVERNIGHT ENERGY: New documents show EPA rolled back mileage standards despite staff, WH concerns | Land management bureau grants 75 royalty rate cuts for oil and gas | EPA employees allege leadership interference with science in watchdog survey MORE and the Trump administration didn't think to send them home earlier or at least take really strong precautions is appalling," she added.

The EPA did not immediately respond to The Hill's questions about the timing of its response or the contents of Thursday's email to staff.

An EPA official said earlier this week that “the health and safety of our employees is our top priority.”

“During this pandemic, EPA has taken swift and prudent action to protect all of our employees,” the spokesperson told The Hill, adding that telework decisions “have been made consistent with guidance” from the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and local and state health advisories.

Updated at 6:42 p.m.