As the United States approaches the ominous threshold of 100,000 deaths resulting from the novel coronavirus pandemic, federal agencies on the frontlines of the fight against the virus are seeing growing death tolls as well.
While the rate of coronavirus spread in the federal workforce has slowed somewhat, as it has in the country as a whole, hundreds of thousands of employees continue to operate at their normal workstations or in deployments specifically to fight the pandemic. Some agencies are slowly starting to recall their workers back to their offices, increasing the risk for additional exposure. Federal offices, like those in all sectors in the country, have struggled to keep their employees safe. Workers have complained of insufficient protective supplies, equipment and distancing policies. The federal employee death toll now stands at least at 127, according to a non-comprehensive tally by Government Executive.
At some agencies, employees are instructed to continue working even after exposure to the virus. At others, thousands of workers have spent weeks at home on quarantine as they awaited test results or to see whether symptoms develop. As many of those workers return to the offices, federal employees are looking to ensure proper screening and testing protocols are in place to avoid further tragedy. Here is a look at some of the agencies that have seen the highest death totals:
- U.S. Postal Service: The mailing agency has seen 60 postal workers die from symptoms related to COVID-19. About 2,400 have tested positive for coronavirus-related disease while a whopping 17,000—or 3% of the USPS workforce—have been sent home on quarantine.
- Veterans Affairs Department: Thirty VA workers have lost their lives from the coronavirus pandemic. VA employees have expressed significant concern about a lack of personal protective equipment, policies that threaten discipline or loss of pay if they do not come in after exposure and poor communication from management. About 1,400 VA employees have tested positive for COVID-19. Nearly 1,100 VA patients have died from related symptoms.
- Defense Department: The Pentagon and military services have seen 17 deaths from the coronavirus, 15 of whom were civilian workers. About 84% of the nearly 8,700 Defense personnel who have tested positive for COVID-19, however, are military.
- Transportation Security Administration: Six TSA employees have died from the coronavirus. TSA has implemented perhaps the most liberal leave policy in the federal government, allowing any worker to remain home on paid administrative leave without having to verify a medical need. More than 8,000 employees have spent time on safety leave, while those still reporting are working far fewer hours than normal due to reduced passenger volume.
- State Department: Five State employees have died from COVID-19. More than 500 employees have tested positive, and more than 3,500 are quarantining due to potential exposure.
- Food Safety Inspection Service: Five inspectors at the Agriculture Department agency have lost their lives to COVID-19. The agency is struggling to keep employees safe as hotspots have developed at meat processing plants around the country. Nearly 200 inspectors have tested positive for the coronavirus disease.
- Customs and Border Protection: Customs officers and Border Patrol agents have played a key role in screening individuals at ports of entry for potential signs of illness, and four of the employees have died from symptoms related to the virus. Three of the deceased worked as customs officers at airports.
Not all federal agencies have been forthcoming with coronavirus data, while others have inaccurate information. The Bureau of Prisons, for example, lists on its website that 58 inmates have died from symptoms related to the virus. It also reports zero staff deaths, though it previously confirmed at least one employee had died from COVID-19.