Homeland Security secretary tests positive for Covid-19
By Geneva Sands, CNN
(CNN) -- Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who is vaccinated against Covid-19, tested positive for the virus on Tuesday morning, according to department spokesperson Marsha Espinosa.
"Secretary Mayorkas tested positive this morning for the COVID-19 virus after taking a test as part of routine pre-travel protocols," Espinosa said in a statement. "Secretary Mayorkas is experiencing only mild congestion; he is fully vaccinated and will isolate and work at home per CDC protocols and medical advice. Contact tracing is underway."
Mayorkas had been scheduled to travel to Colombia this week along with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, but he is now working from home. While in Bogotá, Blinken was scheduled to co-lead a meeting among government officials to address migration issues with regional partners.
This is at least the second time Covid-19 has interrupted Mayorkas' work schedule since taking office. In July, Mayorkas worked virtually after coming in close contact with a DHS employee who later tested positive for Covid-19. At the time, he had no symptoms and tested negative twice.
The secretary traveled to Mexico earlier this month and has participated in several in-person events in recent weeks. He attended an outdoor cybersecurity event last week and on Saturday, appeared at a Peace Officers Memorial Service where he stood outside alongside President Joe Biden, first lady Jill Biden and FBI Director Christopher Wray.
A White House official told CNN that "no White House principal has been determined to be a close contact of Secretary Mayorkas, given that the most recent contact was at the outdoors FOP event outside of the 48-hour close contact window."
The news of Mayorkas' positive test comes weeks after Biden imposed stringent new vaccine rules on federal workers, large employers and health care staff in an attempt to contain the latest surge of Covid-19.
A key provision in the plan is directing the Labor Department to require all businesses with 100 or more employees ensure their workers are either vaccinated or tested once a week.
The President also signed an executive order requiring all government employees be vaccinated against Covid-19, with no option of being regularly tested to opt out, as well as an accompanying order directing the same standard be applied to employees of contractors who do business with the federal government.
DHS is working to comply with Biden's executive order by November 22, a DHS spokesperson previously told CNN.
The department developed an online tool for personnel to report their vaccination status, a system that is available to all DHS employees other than the US Secret Service and US Coast Guard, which have their own reporting systems.
Although, DHS declined to release department-wide interim vaccinate rate data, some of the agencies within the department have shared progress on workforce vaccinations.
As of Tuesday, 89.1% of the Coast Guard's active duty workforce has been fully vaccinated, and 92.9% of the active duty workforce has been vaccinated with at least one dose, according to US Coast Guard media relations deputy LCDR Brittany Panetta.
Mayorkas and the department have also been heavily involved in the management of border travel needs and restrictions amid the pandemic.
Earlier this month, the administration announced plans to ease restrictions on cross-border travel for fully vaccinated visitors starting in early November, relaxing bans that have been in place for more than 18 months.
The new rules, which are similar to those announced for international air passengers, will be rolled out in a phased approach. The first phase, kicking off in early November, will allow fully vaccinated visitors traveling for non-essential reasons, like visiting friends or for tourism, to cross US land borders. The second phase, starting in early January 2022, will apply the vaccination requirement to all inbound foreign travelers, whether traveling for essential or non-essential reasons.
"These new vaccination requirements deploy the best tool we have in our arsenal to keep people safe and prevent the spread of Covid-19 and will create a consistent, stringent protocol for all foreign nationals traveling into the United States whether by land or air," a senior administration official previously told reporters.
This story has been updated with additional reporting Tuesday.
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