SEC asks DC workers to telecommute after employee is treated

WASHINGTON (AP) — Securities and Exchange Commission employees have been encouraged to work remotely for the foreseeable future after a coronavirus scare at the agency’s Washington headquarters.

The agency, which oversees the financial markets, said it was informed Monday afternoon that a headquarters employee had received medical treatment for respiratory symptoms earlier in the day. The unidentified employee was informed by a doctor that they may have been infected with the virus and was referred for testing, the SEC said.

The SEC is the first major federal agency to employ teleworking in an effort to contain the virus’ spread. Also on Tuesday, American University announced it would temporarily shift to all-online classes in order to limit a potential spread of the virus.

Washington, D.C., has so far identified four local cases of coronavirus infections. The first identified case is the rector of a prominent Episcopalian church in Georgetown, prompting Washington officials to call for hundreds of parishioners to self-quarantine for two weeks. District officials announced Monday evening that the number had reached five, but they later reclassified one of those cases as residing in Maryland.

Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser said Tuesday that it was “likely” that the number of identified infection cases would increase as testing continues.

Bowser said D.C. health officials continue to conduct “contact tracing” on the infected people to identify the way the virus has spread from person to person.

“Obviously this virus has a ripple effect and it’s critical to understand who in our community has been infected,” she said.

About a half-dozen members of the U.S. Congress are currently on 14-day self-quarantine after coming in contact with potentially infected people. On Tuesday, Virginia Democratic Rep. Don Beyer announced he would self-quarantine after dining 10 days ago with a person carrying the virus.

The SEC is a leading regulator of financial markets, which have suffered steep declines as the virus has spread around the world.

The agency said the scattering of headquarters employees to work from their homes or other remote locations will not affect operations. Among other precautions, the agency “is encouraging headquarters employees to telework until further guidance,” it said.

“Even with increased telework, the SEC remains able and committed to fully executing its mission on behalf of investors, including monitoring market function and working closely with other regulators and market participants,” said the agency.

American University is the first in the nation’s capital to make such a move, although other universities such as Harvard have done the same.

“While the risk to our community remains low at this time, this could change quickly,” AU President Sylvia Burwell announced Tuesday in a letter to students.

Burwell, a former U.S. secretary of Health and Human Services, said the AU spring break — which started Monday and was scheduled to end on March 16 — would be extended through Wednesday March 18. Classes will resume in an online format on the 18th and continue that way through at least April 3.

The university dorms will remain open, but Burwell wrote, “We strongly encourage students to return to their homes” for the three weeks of online studies.