Key Lawmaker Alarmed at Increase in COVID-19 Among DHS Employees

TSA officers wear protective masks at a security screening area at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in SeaTac, Wash.

TSA officers wear protective masks at a security screening area at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in SeaTac, Wash. Nam Y. Huh/AP

The Secret Service alone has seen a 1,000% increase in positive COVID-19 cases, according to the House Committee on Homeland Security.

Employees across the Homeland Security Department are sicker today with coronavirus infections than at any point during the months-long pandemic, and Congress is urging the agency to take action to protect its workforce.

Citing data provided to the House Committee on Homeland Security, Chairman Bennie Thompson said the Secret Service itself has seen a 1,000% increase in positive coronavirus test cases “in the last month alone.”

Thompson, writing to DHS Acting Secretary Chad Wolf July 10, cited other troubling COVID-19 spikes across DHS, including a 27% increase in COVID-19 positive cases “in the last two weeks alone” across the agency’s sprawling 240,000-person workforce. Aside from the Secret Service, which had several agents test positive following a June 20 rally held by the president in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the DHS agencies hit hardest by COVID-19 have been the Transportation Security Administration and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Thompson, citing data from those agencies, said Customs experienced a 52% increase in COVID-19 while TSA saw a 43% increase over the last two weeks. Those two public-facing agencies represent about 70% of all DHS’ positive COVID-19 cases.

“Over 2,000 TSA and CBP employees have tested positive for COVID-19 as of July 10, 2020, and sadly eleven have lost their lives,” Thompson said. “Unfortunately these numbers are only going up. As the number of DHS employees who have fallen ill during this pandemic continues to rise at an alarming rate, I urge you to take the steps necessary to protect all of the DHS workforce.”

Thompson encouraged Wolf to take “simple steps” to improve his agency’s health. One such measure, Thompson said, would be issuing a requirement for all airline passengers to wear masks to go through TSA security checkpoints.

“As the number of airline passengers continues to increase, so do the risks to the Transportation Security officers who are required to interact with every single passenger,” Thompson said.

DHS’ problems with positive COVID-19 tests are not unique across the federal workforce, which is in the early stages of returning to some office work. On Friday, the Defense Department said the return of some employees to offices coincided with a 35% spike in positive COVID-19 cases, while other large agencies like the Veterans Affairs Department also struggle with the virus. Across the United States, more than 135,000 people have died from COVID-19.