Whistleblower Claims Retaliation After Alleging Reckless Coronavirus Response

U.S. President Donald J. Trump greets  Alex Azar at his swearing-in ceremony to be Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services at The White House in Washington, DC, January  29, 2018. Credit: Chris Kleponis / Polaris
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 29: (AFP-OUT) U.S. President Donald J. Trump greets Alex Azar at his swearing-in ceremony to become the new Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services on January 29, 2018 at The... WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 29: (AFP-OUT) U.S. President Donald J. Trump greets Alex Azar at his swearing-in ceremony to become the new Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services on January 29, 2018 at The White House in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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February 27, 2020 5:19 p.m.

The Trump administration sent a team of government officials to receive patients from the epicenter of the coronavirus epidemic without adequate protection, a whistleblower reportedly alleged in a complaint.

The unnamed whistleblower – reportedly a high-ranking female official in the Department of Health and Human Services – alleged in the complaint to the Office of Special Counsel that Trump administration officials retaliated against her after she raised concerns about the lack of protection.

The new revelation came in reports from the Washington Post and New York Times.

Specifically, the whistleblower reportedly raised alarm bells that a team of HHS officials sent to receive Americans returning from the coronavirus-stricken city of Wuhan, China, were not given protective gear and were not subsequently tested for the virus.

But after the tipster – who oversees HHS’s Administration for Children and Families (ACF) – complained, officials from HHS Secretary Alex Azar’s office allegedly retaliated against her by reassigning her. She claims to have been told on Feb. 19 that if she did not accept the new position by March 5, she would be fired.

“We are hopeful that Congress and the OSC will investigate this case in a timely and comprehensive manner,” Lauren Naylor, an attorney representing the whistleblower told TPM in a statement. “This matter concerns HHS’s response to the coronavirus, and its failure to protect its employees and potentially the public.”

“The retaliatory efforts to intimidate and silence our client must be opposed,” she added.

Both Naylor and another attorney representing the tipster, Ari Wilkenfeld, declined to provide TPM with a copy of the complaint.

The allegations as reported suggest that Americans returning from Wuhan to Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, California, and March Air Reserve Base in Riverside County, California, were greeted by ACF employees who may have been left without protection against coronavirus transmission.

Those employees, reports say, later took commercial flights around the country.

Career staff within HHS began to panic, according to an excerpt of the complaint cited by the New York Times. In the excerpt, the complainant said that her colleagues began to express “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.”

Travis AFB is located in Solano County, California. Yesterday, the CDC confirmed the first American case of coronavirus in which the origin of the virus was unknown. That patient is from Solano County.

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