The Securities and Exchange Commission is asking all personnel based at its headquarters to work from home due to an employee who may have coronavirus, according to an SEC spokesperson, becoming the first federal agency to ask its Washington employees to stay home.
The news comes following the Dow’s worst day since 2008 on Monday, as the markets tumbled amid a trading standstill and historic oil crash. The virus has also hit Washington, with six lawmakers opting to self-quarantine after potential exposure to people who have the coronavirus.
“Late this afternoon, the SEC was informed that a Washington, DC Headquarters employee was treated for respiratory symptoms today (Monday),” the spokesperson said in a statement. “The employee was informed by a physician that the employee may have the coronavirus and was referred for testing.”
The spokesperson added, “Amongst other precautions, the SEC is encouraging Headquarters employees to telework until further guidance.”
The Washington Post first reported the SEC’s decision.
The SEC isn’t the first American employer to pursue large-scale working from home. Amazon, Facebook, Google and Microsoft have all encouraged employees in the Seattle area to work from home due to concerns about the novel coronavirus outbreak in Washington, which is among the hardest hit states. Last week, JPMorgan Chase asked thousands of its employees to work from home for a day to test contingency plans, a person familiar with the matter told CNN Business.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said employers should have strategies ready to protect their workforce – and for some companies, that has meant a shift to virtual communications.
Starbucks told its shareholders last week not to come to its annual meeting planned for Seattle, opting for a virtual annual meeting instead. Several web conferencing companies have rolled out limited-time free access for many of their users.
Last week, however, the Trump administration had to grapple with its move forcing federal workers at the Social Security Administration, which frequently deals with elderly Americans in its offices around the country, to work at the office at a time when options to work from home may be most vital.
Days after the first confirmed coronavirus death in the US, the second phase of cuts to the telework program at the Social Security Administration went into effect. White House coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx said last week that the elderly are among the most vulnerable.
On Monday, President Donald Trump said during a briefing on the coronavirus that he would push lawmakers on Tuesday to advance legislation providing a payroll tax cut and assistance for hourly workers.
“We are going to be asking tomorrow, we’re seeing the Senate. We’re going to be meeting with House Republicans, Mitch McConnell, everybody discussing a possible payroll tax cut or relief, substantial relief,” Trump said on Monday, surrounded by officials in charge of addressing the outbreak.
“We’re also going to be talking about hourly wage earners getting help so that they can be in a position where they’re not going to ever miss a paycheck,” Trump added.
A senior administration official told CNN on Monday that the White House also is reconsidering the possibility of major economic stimulus legislation, noting that “Congress is sharing a lot of ideas. Up to the President.”
According to a new CNN poll released Monday, a majority of Americans are at least somewhat confident the federal government can prevent a nationwide epidemic of novel coronavirus, but only about half say the government has done a good job of containing its spread so far.
CNN’s Jennifer Agiesta, Tara Subramaniam, Gregory Wallace, Holmes Lybrand and Geneva Sands contributed to this report.