U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents are expressing concerns about the safety of their own health amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Five border patrol agents —employed in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and hard-hit California— spoke with The Washington Examiner to voice their concerns.
Despite growing unrest about the continued spread of the global pandemic, multiple agents have revealed the Washington and regional headquarters has yet to brief them about proper protocol in the event of an outbreak within the agency.
In fact, one agent has accused the federal agency of simply doing damage control to say, “Look, I tried.”
“The management is sort of covering their a**, trying to implement some things that might make them say, ‘Look, I tried,’” said an agent. “And then that’s about it.”
On a monthly basis, border patrol agents are coming in contact with thousands of people, including detaining those who illegally crossing borders. One agent noted that he may inspect an average of hundreds of vehicles — up to 1,000 — in one shift.
Although social distancing has been noted as a gravely important factor in decreasing the spread of the coronavirus, border patrol agents face difficulty maintaining that distance due to the nature of their jobs. As a result of this, the agency is expecting some of its personnel to be affected by the coronavirus.
“They’re sending us all out with gloves and masks saying, ‘If you just stay six feet away, you won’t get it. What they’re trying to do is give Border Patrol agents the same rules they’ve given the public. They know that they can’t come out and say, ‘We’re telling all our agents and staffers to stay six feet away from each other, but don’t worry. We’re out there hunting down bad guys. We’re just doing it from six feet away now.’”
The agents also noted that another fellow agent had been absent after having a fever but returned quickly to work. It is unclear what may have caused his illness and agents are still uncertain if they had been exposed to the virus.
Another issue plaguing border patrol agents is workers’ compensation. Agents reportedly mentioned emails to the Examiner explaining the limitations of their worker’s compensation benefits.
According to the email, agents can only receive the worker’s compensation if they test positive for the coronavirus and have the ability to prove the were exposed to the virus while working.
While there is an increased chance that agents could be exposed at work, there is likely no way to trace an exact point of origin. This could place many agents at a disadvantage if they did test positive for the virus.
If an agent does test positive and other confirmed cases follow, they would be eligible to benefits. However, the first agent with a positive diagnosis —considered patient zero — would be facing an uphill battle.
“I’m the guy hung out to dry because I’m patient zero. But all the other guys get paid for it,” an agent said.
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