The Virginia Department of Emergency Management, the agency that exists to handle the state’s crisis response functions, is relying on telecommuting and limiting access to its emergency operations center after one of its own employees tested positive for COVID-19.
VDEM spokesman Dillon Taylor said the unidentified employee is recovering and that eight other employees were asked to self-isolate as a result of possible exposure to the virus.
“They are telecommuting and monitoring their health,” Taylor said in an email this week.
VDEM, based in Chesterfield County, revealed that one of its employees had contracted the virus in a news release issued Sunday.
The agency said its operations have not been significantly hampered as a result, but the incident shows that even the state’s emergency managers have been unable to keep the virus out of their own workforce.
Taylor said the employee who contracted the virus had access to the emergency operations center where state officials are helping to orchestrate the response to the coronavirus pandemic. But the employee did not work out of the facility, Taylor said, and did not enter the operations center during the period when he or she could have spread the virus to others.
“VDEM has implemented more aggressive cleaning measures and social distancing protocols that will be in place at our [emergency operations center] and headquarters office,” Taylor said. “In preparation for the COVID-19 incident, businesses, agencies, and organizations can expect roughly 30 percent of their employees to be unavailable to work due to health or other care or family issues, and we are planning accordingly.
“A large percentage of VDEM headquarter functions can be accomplished via telecommute, and our EOC operations during this event will be virtualized as much as possible to minimize these incidents as this event progresses over the upcoming weeks and months.”
The emergency operations center, or EOC in public safety jargon, is a secure facility attached to the Virginia State Police headquarters in Midlothian where officials gather to coordinate responses to hurricanes, blizzards and any other natural or man-made disasters.
Going forward, access to the emergency operations center will be limited to “essential personnel,” according to VDEM.
Taylor said the emergency operations center did not have to shut down due to the infected employee, but it is being “continuously” and “aggressively” cleaned.
“VDEM leads the state hazardous materials program and has in-house expertise in technical decontamination,” Taylor said.
Taylor said VDEM does not know how the employee contracted the virus.