The Office of Personnel Management has begun coordination efforts with the Centers for Disease Control and other agencies to ensure that federal employees have all of the resources and work options necessary to combat and avoid the new coronavirus that broke out in China beginning in late 2019.

According to a Feb. 3 memo sent to the heads of agencies, OPM has established a working group to determine what guidance it should provide to agencies about coronavirus exposure and concerns in the coming weeks.

“OPM plans to issue any necessary guidance as soon as possible to assist agencies in meeting two equally important goals: (1) the safety of the federal workforce, and (2) the continuity of operations,” OPM Director Dale Cabaniss wrote in the memo.

“Although the risk of contracting [coronavirus] remains very low, agencies should remind employees to use good health habits such as hand washing and encourage sick employees to seek medical treatment and use sick leave or other appropriate workplace flexibilities. Where necessary, agencies should consider implementing social distancing, including the use of telework.”

Coronavirus cases are still relatively rare in the United States with only 11 confirmed cases in five states, but approximately two-dozen other countries have confirmed cases of the virus.

In China, where the disease originated, over 20,000 cases have been confirmed by the Chinese National Health Commission, with over 400 deaths from the disease.

According to OPM employment data, approximately 80 to 90 federal employees are located in China, with the most recent March 2019 data placing that number at 86.

Several countries have advised against or shut down travel with China in an attempt to control the outbreak.

Despite the national attention garnered by the coronavirus outbreak, the disease has yet to even come close to the impact the seasonal flu has on the U.S. population, as the CDC estimates that the 2019-2020 season has thus far led to approximately 20 million illnesses and as many as 25,000 deaths nationwide.

The CDC estimates that the person-to-person spread of the coronavirus is similar to that of the flu and other respiratory illnesses, and requires close contact with another infected person.

Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.

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