An anonymous whistleblower has filed a complaint alleging that U.S. health workers worked with people potentially infected by the coronavirus without proper training or medical gear, according to reports on Thursday from the Washington Post and the New York Times.
The Department of Health and Human Services employees went to Travis Air Force Base and March Air Reserve Base to interact with Americans who had been evacuated from China and elsewhere due to possible exposure to the virus, the report said. Despite the quarantine in place, the staff were reportedly not using the appropriate protective equipment and had not been trained to handle the situation, risking further spread of the infection.
The Times wrote:
Without proper training or equipment, some of the exposed staff members moved freely around and off the bases, with at least one person staying in a nearby hotel and leaving California on a commercial flight. Many were unaware of the need to test their temperature three times a day.
“I soon began to field panicked calls from my leadership team and deployed staff members expressing concerns with the lack of H.H.S. communication and coordination, staff being sent into quarantined areas without personal protective equipment, training or experience in managing public health emergencies, safety protocols and the potential danger to both themselves and members of the public they come into contact with,” the whistle-blower wrote.
The Times also noted: “The first American case of coronavirus in a patient with no known contact with hot zones or other coronavirus patients emerged near Travis Air Force Base this week.”
“We take all whistleblower complaints very seriously and are providing the complainant all appropriate protections under the Whistleblower Protection Act. We are evaluating the complaint and have nothing further to add at this time,” said Caitlin Oakley, a spokeswoman for the department.
However, according to the Post, the whistleblower suspects she faces retribution:
The whistleblower is seeking federal protection because she alleges she was unfairly and improperly reassigned after raising concerns about the safety of these workers to HHS officials, including those within the office of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. She was told Feb. 19 that if she does not accept the new position in 15 days, which is March 5, she would be terminated.
The whistleblower has decades of experience in the field, received two HHS department awards from Azar last year, and has received the highest performance evaluations, her lawyers said.
The complaint was filed with the Office of the Special Counsel, according to the reports. The office has not commented publicly on the complaint.