- A government whistleblower alleges that the Department of Health and Human Services sent workers to help evacuees from Wuhan, China — the center of the coronavirus — without giving them proper protective gear or training.
- According to The Washington Post and The New York Times, the whistleblower is a senior HHS official based in Washington, DC.
- The individual claims that workers were sent to two bases in California to assist in processing American evacuees from China without being trained in safety protocol and without adequate protection.
- The first case of a US patient becoming infected with coronavirus through “community spread” took place near one of those bases earlier this week.
- The whistleblower alleges that they were unfairly reassigned and threatened with termination after flagging their concerns to senior HHS officials, including those who work for HHS Secretary Alex Azar.
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A whistleblower from the Department of Health and Human Services has alleged that the US sent more than a dozen government workers to assist Americans who were evacuated from Wuhan, China without giving them proper training or protective gear, The Washington Post and The New York Times reported on Thursday.
The whistleblower is reportedly a senior HHS official based in Washington, DC, and oversees employees at the Administration for Children and Families unit within the federal agency.
Wuhan is the center of the global coronavirus outbreak, which has infected 82,000 people — most of them in mainland China — and killed 2,800.
The World Health Organization said on Thursday that the outbreak could become a pandemic, and US public health officials announced this week that they expect it to spread throughout the country.
Lawyers for the whistleblower told The Post that the workers sent to help American evacuees did not show symptoms of the infection and have not been tested for the virus.
The Times, which obtained a portion of the complaint that was submitted to the Office of the Special Counsel, reported that the team sent to assist the evacuees was “improperly deployed” to two military bases in California to aid in processing the Americans, who were evacuated from China and elsewhere.
According to The Times, the workers went to Travis Air Force Base and March Air Reserve Base and were ordered to go into quarantined areas without proper training in how to handle infectious diseases and inadequate protective gear. The whistleblower reportedly claims the officials were not trained in how to follow safety protocols until five days later.
As the Times notes, the first case of a US patient becoming infected with coronavirus through “community spread” took place near Travis Air Force Base earlier this week.
Moreover, the whistleblower alleges that they were unfairly reassigned after flagging their concerns to senior HHS officials, including those who work for HHS Secretary Alex Azar. On February 19, the individual was reportedly told they had 15 days to accept their new job or they would be terminated.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced on Wednesday that the public needed to brace itself as the COVID-19 virus, known as the novel coronavirus, sweeps the globe and is increasingly likely to spread within the US — a possibility that would most likely force changes to daily life for many Americans.
“It’s not so much of a question of if this will happen in this country anymore but a question of when this will happen,” Dr. Nancy Messonnier, the director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the CDC, said during a press call on Tuesday. “We are asking the American public to prepare for the expectation that this might be bad.”
Messonnier also said the agency was “preparing as if we are going to see community spread in the near term,” adding that the outbreak could soon lead to a “disruption to everyday life.”
But President Donald Trump has so far brushed off concerns of a pandemic and claims, despite repeated warnings from medical experts and health professionals, that the disease is under control.
If the coronavirus breaks out in the US and forces the quarantining of American towns and cities, Trump’s refusal to acknowledge its seriousness, on top of years of cuts to public health, could prove a massive political liability. Health experts told Insider that public trust and cooperation by local, state, and federal officials were essential to treating those infected with the virus and limiting its spread.
In China, the unprecedented spread of the coronavirus is a massive test of President Xi Jinping’s authoritarian system and the surveillance state he’s built up over the years. It’s also straining the global economy and has affected the profits for multinational giants like Apple as schools, factories, and businesses across China remain shuttered and millions of people are quarantined and unable to work.