EPA employees can continue working from home or taking time off for another month, Administrator Andrew Wheeler said yesterday, citing the ongoing threat posed by the novel coronavirus.
The announcement, made in an all-staff email yesterday, came the same day the agency learned 13 EPA employees had tested positive for COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, according to an EPA spokesperson.
That tally includes a second staffer in the Southeast regional office, an internal email obtained by E&E News shows.
"In response to the President’s announcement yesterday to continue social distancing through April 30th, we will extend unscheduled leave and unscheduled telework in the Agency to the end of April," Wheeler told EPA staff in the message.
"As this health crisis continues, there will be those in our ranks who are diagnosed with COVID19," he said. "Our concern for your wellbeing goes out to those impacted."
But Wheeler also encouraged EPA staff to not let their eyes off the ball.
"This can be a difficult time to focus on our work but now is when it is most important to maintain that focus, the American public rely upon us to do our jobs and I know that each and every one of us will," he said.
EPA has not responded to repeated requests for a breakdown of the distribution of COVID-19 cases by office.
An email from Region 4 Administrator Mary Walker, however, shows that there are at least three people in the Atlanta office who have come down with the potentially deadly disease, two of whom work for EPA.
The second EPA employee last came into the office March 18, Walker said yesterday evening.
Last week, she informed Region 4 staffers that another EPA staffer in Atlanta had tested positive for COVID-19 (Greenwire, March 30).
Walker’s email yesterday also noted that the General Services Administration was notified last Friday of a confirmed case at another agency in the Sam Nunn Atlanta Federal Center.
EPA shared that information as soon as it learned of the news, she said.
Reporter Kevin Bogardus contributed.