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VA employees say telework requests were denied before reported COVID-19 cases

Posted: 6:34 PM, Mar 26, 2020
Updated: 2020-03-26 22:10:02-04
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SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - At least six employees with the VA San Diego Healthcare System counseling center have tested positive for the coronavirus.

On Thursday, 10News spoke with several people who work at the location. The employees we spoke with said when people started having symptoms, they asked to work from home but were told to keep showing up.

Too afraid to use their names or participate in any type of recorded interview for fear of retaliation from officials at the VA, the employees detailed their concerns over the phone.

RELATED: Six San Diego VA employees test positive for coronavirus

One person told 10News, “We were begging for about two weeks to do telework.”

Another employee said, “We were reporting cases of potential COVID (COVID-19) and asking for telework to quarantine and keep safe, and the answers we got back were, ‘We'll look into that.’”

The employees tell 10News they work with homeless veterans and veterans with histories of chronic homelessness. They work tight quarters and there was no way to maintain social distancing, they said.

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Team 10 obtained several emails sent by leadership at the VA. Employees point to one sent last week where the director wrote, “You may have seen news reports about increased telework opportunities for federal employees. While this has been widely publicized, requests for the approval of new telework agreements will be very limited due to the limited bandwidth of telework systems and the need to have staff onsite to ensure the continuation of operations. Although some of you may have duties that could be performed remotely and would like to telework, at this time we need all employees who can work, to be present at their worksite.”

At Wednesday's press conference with the County of San Diego, 10News asked county leaders if they aware of the cases at the VA office.

"The cases that are at that location are known to us and we are under an active investigation with the staff at that site," officials said.

RELATED: County confirms COVID-19 case at College Area assisted living center

On Wednesday afternoon a spokesperson for the VA San Diego Healthcare System told 10News in part, “VA is screening veterans and staff who present with symptoms of fever, cough, and shortness of breath who meet the CDC criteria for evaluation of COVID-19 infection. Per CDC guidance and VA protocols, individuals known to be at risk for a COVID-19 infection are immediately isolated to prevent potential spread to others.”

Team 10 reached out to the VA spokesperson Thursday afternoon with additional questions regarding the allegations from employees. As of this writing we have not received any responses.

RELATED: INTERACTIVE MAP: Confirmed coronavirus cases in San Diego County

One employee who tested positive for COVID-19 tells Team 10 there’s nothing positive about the way the VA handled the situation.

That employee who asked not to be named described their symptoms as having a mild headache, no taste or smell, nausea and body exhaustion. They said a family member is also showing symptoms of COVID-19.

Emails obtained by 10News show officials at the VA told employees if they are symptomatic to stay home. However, employees tell 10News they weren't given options for paid leave despite their exposure happening at work.