DOE confirms first employee case of coronavirus

By Lesley Clark | 03/19/2020 07:29 AM EDT

The Department of Energy said yesterday it has confirmed that an employee at its Washington, D.C., headquarters has tested positive for the new coronavirus.

Department of Energy headquarters in Washington.

Department of Energy headquarters in Washington. Francis Chung/E&E News

The Department of Energy said yesterday it has confirmed that an employee at its Washington, D.C., headquarters has tested positive for the new coronavirus.

Employees who work in close proximity to the individual are being notified, and the department has ordered a "deep clean" of the employee’s office, as well as the surrounding work area, Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette said in an email to staff posted on the department’s website.

Brouillette said the employee developed symptoms of COVID-19 after returning home from personal leave and later tested positive.


The employee left on personal leave March 3 and has neither been in DOE’s James V. Forrestal Building nor had any physical contact with DOE employees since then, Brouillette added. The employee is currently recovering while in self-quarantine.

"The health and safety of our workforce is our number one priority, and we continue to closely follow the guidance of both the CDC and OMB, encouraging employees to maximize telework and practice ‘social distancing’ during this time," Brouillette said in the email.

The Energy secretary on Monday announced that the department would practice social distancing amid the coronavirus pandemic, maximizing the number of employees in Washington and at national laboratories across the country who can work from home (Energywire, March 17).

The move came as several national laboratories announced they would temporarily trim staffing.

The National Treasury Employees Union, which represents some DOE workers, has called for the federal government to close federal buildings with 50 or more employees. On Sunday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommended that gatherings of 50 more be discouraged.

NTEU National President Tony Reardon said this week that many federal employees are not telework-eligible and work in close proximity to one another.

In the Monday memo, Brouillette said that DOE would remain "open and operational" but that the "health and safety" of the workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic are his top priorities.

"We will ensure that the department is able to carry out its mission while substantially reducing the risk of transmission of the COVID-19 virus," Brouillette said.

DOE has also established a hotline to report potential or confirmed COVID-19 cases across the DOE complex.

Two earlier potential exposures at two of DOE’s national laboratories turned out negative.

The director at DOE’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California announced earlier this week that staffing at the facility would be reduced to a minimum necessary to ensure the safety of the laboratory, as well as a "very limited number of mission-critical activities."

Lawrence Livermore had returned to full operation last week; prior to that, it had scrapped business travel and most visits to the lab after an employee self-quarantined after being exposed to someone with the virus. The employee later tested negative for COVID-19.

Another person at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., also tested negative last week for the virus, DOE said.

Reporter Christa Marshall contributed.