Well-Being Prevention & Cures

Report: US health workers responding to coronavirus quarantine lacked training, protective gear

Personnel in biological hazard suits welcome passengers evacuated from Wuhan, China shortly after the plane landed at March Air Reserve Base in Riverside, California

Story at a glance

  • A government whistleblower alleges the Department of Health and Human Services sent workers to help evacuees from Wuhan, China, without proper gear or training.
  • The Washington Post and The New York Times report the whistleblower is a senior HHS official.
  • The first case of a U.S. patient becoming infected through “community spread” happened near one of the bases used for quarantine.

A new whistleblower complaint claims U.S. health workers responding to the coronavirus quarantine of Americans on two California military bases lacked proper medical training or protective gear and were allowed to go into the general population, according to The New York Times.

The Times obtained part of the complaint submitted to the Office of the Special Counsel. In it, the whistleblower, described as a senior leader in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), reportedly claims the team was “improperly deployed” to the Travis Air Force Base and March Air Reserve Base to assist Americans who were evacuated from China and elsewhere. 

The complaint says the staff members were ordered into quarantined areas without proper training in safety protocols or the proper equipment. 

The Times reports staff members then moved freely on and off the bases, and one stayed in a nearby hotel and left the state on a commercial flight.

The Department of Health and Human Services responded to the complaint Thursday. 

“We take all whistle-blower complaints very seriously and are providing the complainant all appropriate protections under the Whistleblower Protection Act,” said Caitlin Oakley, spokeswoman for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Public Affairs, according to The New York Times. 

The Washington Post reports the whistleblower alleges she were unfairly reassigned after voicing their concerns to senior HHS officials, including those in the office of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. The whistleblower was allegedly told Feb. 19 that if they does not accept the new position in 15 days, by March 5, they would be terminated.

The Post reports the workers did not show symptoms of infection and were not tested for the virus. 

The first case of a U.S. patient becoming infected with coronavirus through “community spread” happened near Travis Air Force Base earlier this week.