OPM joins fight against Zika virus

The Office of Personnel Management is joining the international fight against the Zika virus.

OPM is offering the departments of State and Health and Human Services, and the U.S. Agency for International Development direct hire authority, OPM acting Director Beth Cobert announced in a March 4 blog post.

“Time is critical, and a fast-moving illness like Zika requires an equally fast response. So OPM is contributing to the response by authorizing emergency hiring flexibility for positions crucial to dealing with this crisis,” Cobert said. “Among the dozens of federal positions possibly needed are medical officers and nurses at State, microbiologists and epidemiologists at HHS, and emergency management and IT specialists at USAID.”

Direct hire authority trims some of the red tape in the federal hiring process.

The authority “expedites hiring by eliminating competitive rating and ranking, veterans’ preference, and ‘rule of three’ procedures,” according to OPM.

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.

According to the CDC, “knowledge of the link between Zika and birth defects is evolving, but until more is known, CDC recommends special precautions for pregnant women.  Pregnant women in any trimester should consider postponing travel to any area where Zika virus is spreading.”

The World Health Organization in February declared the virus a public health emergency. The State Department has also issued Zika virus information for travelers.

President Barack Obama in late February asked Congress for $1.9 billion in emergency funding to address the Zika threat at home and abroad.

The funding would pay for research and development, vaccines, and “allow for sufficient response and flexibility across the federal government to address changing circumstances and emerging needs related to the Zika virus.”

“My foremost priority is to protect the health and safety of Americans,” Obama said. “This request supports the necessary steps to fortify our domestic health system, detect and respond to any potential Zika outbreaks at home, and to limit the spread in other countries.”

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