The Seattle U.S. Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS) Field Office is closed Tuesday, March 3, after a staff member is being tested for COVID-19, the coronavirus outbreak impacting King County.
U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Acting Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli tweeted about the closure Tuesday. He states that late on Monday, March 2, he learned of an employee exhibiting flu-like symptoms four days after visiting Life Care Center in Kirkland. That center has more than 50 people ill with respiratory issues and several positive cases of the 2019 coronavirus.
The employee went to work after the visit to Kirkland on Feb. 22, before it was known residents there were contracting the virus, Cuccinelli stated. They continued to work until becoming ill on Feb. 26. Once feeling ill, the staff member stayed home. The Seattle Times reported that DHS will be closing the office for 14 days.
Employees at USCIS Field Office, 12500 International Blvd. in Tukwila, are being asked to work from home if they are able. Cuccinelli stated that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Customs and Border Protection, and Federal Protective Service personnel were also working out of the Seattle Field Office and asked to telework.
DHS is asking all employees and applicants who intended to visit the office to stay home if feeling ill or exhibiting flu-like symptoms. The USCIS website asks that anyone who becomes ill reschedule their appointments for when they are healthy, even if they have not been exposed to the virus. Symptoms include runny nose, headache, cough, sore throat or fever. The website states that people can reschedule appointments for this reason without penalty, following the instructions on their appointment notice.
Acting DHS Secretary Chad F. Wolf made a statement to the House Homeland Security Committee on Tuesday, March 3.
“Late last night we were made aware of a situation involving a DHS employee and out of an abundance of caution and following recommended procedure, I ordered a DHS facility in King County, Washington State to close beginning today and directed those employees to telework if possible in order to reduce the threat of community spread of coronavirus. At this time, the affected offices will remain closed for 14 days and all employees have been directed to self-quarantine for 14 days. We made the decision to close offices because an employee had visited a family member at the Life Care Facility in Kirkland, Washington, before it was known that the facility was impacted by the coronavirus outbreak. Though the employee did not report to work when they felt ill, we are taking these steps out of an abundance of caution.
“I am pleased to report that this employee embodied what it means to lead by example. The employee and their family took every precaution and followed the guidance of public health officials. They stayed home from work when they felt ill, the family self-quarantined and reported the exposure and their condition to their employers and other officials. As this unfolds, I know many at the Department of Homeland Security, myself included, will be thinking about and praying for our employees, their families and community. I think I speak for everyone when I thank the employee and their family for taking the advice of healthcare professionals. As an employer, it is our upmost responsibility to protect our workforce.”
“In addition to the travel restrictions and enhanced medical screenings put in place for travelers, DHS has continually engaged our workforce with guidance on protective and preventative measures. From the headquarters level, we began sending all-employee messages on January 22nd which include CDC information on the virus and preventative measures that should be taken. At this time a rapid response team at headquarters working with the CDC, state and local officials on further guidance. We will be sure to keep the committee updated as we have more.”
For more information on symptoms and prevention of spreading COVID-19, visit kingcounty.gov/COVID.