WASHINGTON — Employees at the Washington, D.C., and New York offices of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau were ordered to work remotely after a contractor in the agency’s Washington tested positive for Coronavirus.
The positive test result came after two bureau employees had symptoms and were being tested for the virus, which the World Health Organization has designated a global pandemic. These cases have caused the agency, which is responsible for consumer protection in the financial industry, to call for mandatory teleworking at its offices in New York and Washington.
The office closure comes as some federal employees have expressed frustration over contradictory guidelines. On Friday, the White House Office of Management and Budget issued a directive allowing telework for elderly employees and those with health conditions. Amid criticism, the White House issued new guidelines on Sunday night that expanded on the prior directive and encouraged federal agencies in the D.C. area to “offer maximum telework flexibilities” for all employees. However, those guidelines were not mandatory and they left out the vast majority of federal employees who do not work in Washington.
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau employees who worked in Washington were notified of the first possible case of coronavirus in an email on March 12. That message said the agency had been informed that an individual who works in the bureau’s downtown Washington headquarters “exhibited symptoms” and was “scheduled to be tested for COVID-19.”
At the time, the office was not closed, though employees who wanted to work from home were invited to do so.
“This individual has been sent home and is no longer in the building. Any staff in the building who would like to leave and telework is encouraged to do so,” the March 12 email said. “Cleaning is already underway in common areas. … We have traced that individual’s contacts in the building to the best of our ability and those individuals have also been sent home.”
On the following day, CFPB employees in Washington received an email informing them of a second potential coronavirus case.
In the second email to staff, the CFPB again said “any staff member in the building who would like to telework is encouraged to do so.” It also said the building would undergo “deep cleaning” and that highly rated air filters and ultraviolet lights were being used in the HVAC systems at the headquarters.
On Monday, the CFPB emailed staffers to inform them that a contractor who worked in the Washington headquarters has tested positive for COVID-19. The email also noted the bureau did not have test results from the two employees who were sent home after exhibiting symptoms.
According to the message, the CFPB has implemented a “mandatory telework policy” for its Washington headquarters and its New York regional office until March 20. A spokesperson for agency provided Yahoo News with a third message that went to all its staff on Monday, which expressed sympathies for the contractor who tested positive and noted that teleworking was also “encouraged” for employees in other offices that remain open.
“My thoughts are with this person and their family during this trying time. I know I speak for all of us when I say we are looking forward to their full and speedy recovery. As you know, we have instructed the cleaning contractor to conduct a thorough and deep clean of the bureau’s headquarters and New York offices. During this time, we have a mandatory telework policy in place for this week for D.C. and New York offices,” the message said.
The coronavirus case at the CFPB’s headquarters building is located about a block away from the White House. It also is home to a daycare center, also now closed, for infants and toddlers that is used by many CFPB employees. A parent of a child who attends the daycare center told Yahoo News they were “terrified” to learn of the coronavirus case in the building.
“The agency has made clear the safety of employees is its top priority,” a CFPB official, who asked not to be named, told Yahoo News. “Some employees have made the choice to continue coming to the office, but that is not required. The agency remains committed to protecting employees and consumers every single day.”
On Monday afternoon, the White House and the Centers for Disease Control issued new coronavirus guidelines that included telling people to work from home when possible.
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