OPM discourages feds from traveling to Zika-affected regions

The Office of Personnel Management is discouraging feds from traveling to areas afflicted with the Zika virus. Acting Director Beth Cobert sent a memo to chief human capital officers and human resources directors on March 7 urging them to minimize travel to these regions whenever possible.

“With the worldwide mobility of the Federal workforce, agencies should monitor this situation closely,” the memo said. OPM encouraged supervisors and managers to consider teleconferencing as an alternative to travel whenever possible. The memo also instructed supervisors to “carefully consider requests from employees who wish to opt out of this travel, and/or solicit qualified volunteers if travel is necessary.”

This is not the first time OPM has addressed the Zika virus. On March 4, the agency granted direct hire authority to the departments of State and Health and Human Services, and the U.S. Agency for International Development. This move eliminated some of the red tape, making it easier for these agencies to hire medical personnel, microbiologists, epidemiologists, emergency management and IT specialists in order to more effectively respond to the situation.

The memo from OPM also offered information from the Centers for Disease Control about the Zika virus and ways to minimize risk.

The virus is mostly spread through mosquito bites. About 80 percent of people who contract it don’t report getting sick; however, symptoms can include fever, joint pain and rash, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

One of the biggest concerns associated with the virus is the growing number of reported birth defects of babies born to mothers who’ve had Zika while pregnant.

The CDC is still gathering information about Zika, and updates are regularly published on the website.