EL PASO, Texas -- ABC-7 has learned a worker has tested positive for the coronavirus at an east El Paso call center that handles calls for some federal government programs.
The confirmed case prompted a shutdown for less than a day of the Maximus call center, located at 12 Founders Boulevard near the El Paso International Airport, so that the entire facility could be disinfected.
Workers at the facility were informed that a co-worker was diagnosed with the virus at 4 p.m. Thursday and sent home. As of 11 a.m. Friday, the facility had reopened and was summoning workers back to the office.
The Maximus call center employs several hundred workers and the company said some of its work involves federal programs including Medicaid, Medicare, the Affordable Care Act marketplace and the 2020 Census.
Maximus management told ABC-7 on Friday that the disinfected facility had reopened and the company was strictly enforcing CDC guidelines on social distancing and has a "significantly increased" sanitizing schedule.
"Ensuring the safety and well-being of Maximus employees is paramount to ensure that citizens continue to have access to the most essential programs," the company said in a statement.
El Paso has a large number of call centers in the city, employing thousands, and the alleged lack of social distancing safeguards by some of these firms has been a frequent complaint by many call center workers who have contacted ABC-7 in recent days.
This photo below sent to ABC-7 showed employees at the GC Services call center appearing to be sitting much closer together than social distancing guidelines allow. ABC-7 received similar complaints about Alorica's call center operations.
GC Services President Mark Schordack told ABC-7 prior to this photo being taken, and the issuance of the city workplace orders, that his company had "a significant push to get people moved home, and the ones we can't to be sitting every other seat or every third seat within the remaining centers."
Meantime, Alorica responded to questions from ABC-7 with a statement that reads: “We are continuing our efforts to maintain social distancing and cleaning protocols onsite, and working to quickly transition as many eligible employees to a temporary work-at-home model.”
Questions have also been raised about whether some of these call centers are actually engaged in "essential business" based on city guidelines.
According to the city, call centers who support essential businesses are considered to be essential services.
So far, ABC-7 is not aware of any citations being issued to call center companies for violating city orders aimed at stopping the virus' spread. But the city continues to encourage people to report violators by calling 3-1-1 or by visiting epstrong.org.
El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samamiego said he is encouraging these call centers to have employees work from home.
“Unless you’re focusing on health care, they should be like any other business where they shouldn’t be operating,” he told ABC-7.