House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., expressed concern in a June 10 letter over a sharp rise in the number of Department of Homeland Security employees testing positive for COVID-19.

In the letter sent to DHS Acting Secretary Chad Wolf, Thompson said that data provided to the Homeland Security Committee indicates that the number of employees who currently have the virus is the highest it has been since reporting began in March. Additionally, the number of employees in quarantine or self-isolation has increased 27 percent in the last two weeks.

“As these numbers continue to increase, the Committee is concerned about the Department’s ability to protect its workforce,” Thompson wrote.

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Thompson specifically stressed the amount of interaction DHS employees have with the American public, including DHS components like the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) – which make up 70 percent of the DHS employees who have tested positive for COVID-19. Citing data provided to the committee, Thompson said that more than 2,000 TSA employees have tested positive for COVID-19 as of July 10, and 11 have died. In the last two weeks, CBP saw a 52 percent increase in COVID-19 cases, and TSA saw a 43 percent increase.

“Despite this troubling trend, it appears your Department has not taken simple steps to help ensure these employees are as safe as possible,” Thompson wrote.

Given the rise in airline travel, Thompson requested that Wolf issue a requirement for all airline passengers to wear masks in order to protect TSA employees. He also took aim at President Trump and Vice President Pence, saying that Secret Service agents have been put at risk due to Trump and Pence attending political rallies and other public events. Thompson specifically cited the two Secret Service agents who tested positive after working at Trump’s recent rally in Tulsa, Okla. He noted that there has been a 1,000 percent increase in Secret Service employees testing positive in the last month.

Thompson then addresses the American Communities Task Force (PACT), which Wolf introduced last week. Secret Service, TSA, and CBP employees will all be expected to participate in PACT. “The Committee has several questions about how these components will be supporting the Federal Protective Service in its role to secure monuments, memorials, statutes, and Federal facilities, as outlined in the letter I sent you on July 6,” Thompson wrote. “The Committee is troubled that these new duties will unnecessarily increase the risk these law enforcement officers face.”

He concluded by urging Wolf to “take the steps necessary to protect all of the DHS workforce” as “the number of DHS employees who have fallen ill during this pandemic continues to rise at an alarming rate.”

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk's Assistant Copy & Production Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.