Phoenix Delayed Notifying Airport Workers That Co-Workers Got COVID-19

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport
Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport PHX Sky Harbor
At least three employees of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, one of whom is now deceased, have tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

But two airport workers say the city of Phoenix — which operates Sky Harbor — has been slow to formally communicate with them about their potential exposure to the virus. Notification did not begin until Friday, after one of the three positive-testing employees had died.

City employees who have come into close contact with positive cases are not currently required to stay home unless they develop symptoms.

One of the employees who tested positive for COVID-19 has been away from work for about two weeks, city of Phoenix spokesperson Julie Watters confirmed. The employee is an operations assistant who works outside, her co-workers said.

Another worker tested positive for the coronavirus on Monday, according to text messages between the worker and one of her colleagues that were shared with Phoenix New Times. The third Sky Harbor employee, a manager who worked in a non-public office building, died of COVID-19 last week. Watters confirmed that the first two employees both work in public-facing positions.

The operations assistant who tested positive for the coronavirus went semi-public with her case on Friday, sharing details on a private Facebook post accessible to her friends. New Times has seen the post but is not identifying the employee because she did not respond to request for comment.

Many of the operations assistant's colleagues found out that one of their co-workers had tested positive from that Facebook post.

"They’re not notifying us of anything," said one Sky Harbor employee, a security officer who has worked at the airport for several years. She said that even though she works in a different area of the airport than the operations assistant, airport workers socialize across departments and share amenities, like restrooms and break rooms.

The city of Phoenix's current policy is to notify employees of potential exposure if they can "reasonably be determined" to have made close contact with a positive case, city human resources director Lori Bays said in a podcast for city employees.

"Those may include their work group, others they may have interacted with in meetings, or otherwise worked together closely. We will notify those individuals directly and provide them with guidance from the Maricopa Department of Health," Bays added during the podcast, which was released on Tuesday as a way of keeping Phoenix's 15,000 employees informed on the city's response to COVID-19.

That notification began on Friday night and will continue through the week, Watters said.

But the security guard who spoke with New Times said she has not yet been formally contacted by the city about the most recent case of COVID-19 among city employees. That's despite the fact that she works in "close proximity" with the employee, another security guard.

The security guard who tested positive went to the emergency room on Friday, her co-worker said. In a text message on Sunday, the guard said she was diagnosed with "a bit of pneumonia." On Monday, she tested positive.

Employees who may have come in close contact with positive cases are expected come into work while monitoring themselves for symptoms.

Mario Ayala, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 2384, a trade union that represents municipal workers in Phoenix, said that the city's current plan for notifying employees about COVID-19 cases is inadequate.

"The city is notifying the immediate work group, not understanding that there is a combination of different work groups that interact with each other every day. That’s where they are coming up short," Ayala said. "Until there is a comprehensive plan put in, we’re going to continue to see additional cases out in aviation, and for us that is unfortunate."
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Steven Hsieh was a staff writer for Phoenix New Times from August 2018 to April 2020.
Contact: Steven Hsieh