The Trump administration is requiring veterans’ hospitals and federal prison employees who’ve been exposed to the coronavirus to go to work without a 14-day quarantine, putting them at risk, a union representing the workers said.
In doing so, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the U.S. Bureau of Prisons are failing to follow guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to slow the spread of the virus that’s infected almost 400,000 Americans and killed more than 12,000, the American Federation of Government Employees said in a pair of complaints on Tuesday.
The Washington-based union, which represents 260,000 employees at Veterans Affairs and more than 30,000 correctional officers and staff at the Bureau of Prisons, made the allegations in filings with the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
“The federal government is failing to do everything it can to protect workers who are on the front lines of this health-care crisis, and in some cases it is willfully doing the opposite — exposing not only workers but vulnerable populations to this deadly virus,” Everett Kelley, the union’s national president, said in a statement.
Veteran Affairs denied the claims, calling them false and saying that publicizing them would be “irresponsible.”
“Employees exhibiting Covid-19 symptoms are immediately isolated to prevent potential spread to others,” VA spokeswoman Christina Noel said in an emailed statement. “VA facilities are using PPE in accordance with CDC guidelines, and all employees have the appropriate Personal Protective Equipment.”
But VA nurses in Brooklyn, New York, had planned to protest Monday a lack of staffing and PPE at the facility.
If the VA administration fails “to provide the necessary staffing and personal protective equipment to the Brooklyn VA, and to other VA facilities around the country, we fear will see unnecessary deaths of both veterans and civilian patients, as well as our registered nurses and other health care workers,” Corey Lanham, a union official, said in a statement.
The Bureau of Prisons didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. But government officials have said earlier that steps are being taken to protect the safety of inmates and prison officers.
The union accused the Bureau of Prisons of wrongfully recalling staff within 48 hours of suspected infections and claims the bureau continues to allow inmates to gather in groups. The bureau also failed to provide N-95 masks to staff who transport inmates who tested positive, according to the union.
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