Story at a glance

  • A whistleblower complaint alleges federal workers were not adequately trained or given proper protective gear when working with American evacuees quarantined due to the coronavirus.
  • Azar says the HHS workers have not contracted the disease.
  • Azar said even if the allegations prove to be true, there was no spreading of the disease from the incident.

Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar said Sunday he is personally involved in reviewing a whistleblower complaint alleging federal workers responding to the coronavirus quarantine of Americans evacuated from Wuhan, China, were not given proper protective gear and training. 

“We are aggressively looking to see whether there is validity to the concerns,” Azar said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” 

“What the American people need to know is that we now have passed well over 14 days since any HHS employee had contact with the individuals involved. Nobody is symptomatic. Nobody has the disease.” 

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Azar said HHS offered to test any HHS employees involved if they would “like that extra piece of mind,” despite the fact it is not medically indicated.

A worker for HHS filed a complaint with the Office of the Special Counsel claiming more than a dozen employees were sent to receive Americans in California repatriated from Wuhan without adequate training or protective gear for coronavirus infection control. The Chinese city is where the coronavirus is believed to have originated. 

CNN reports there are more than 80 coronavirus cases in the U.S., including more than 40 among those repatriated from Wuhan, or from the Diamond Princess cruise ship quarantined in Japan. The West Coast has seen the majority of coronavirus cases in the U.S.

In Washington state, at least 13 people have tested positive for the novel coronavirus and two have died, according to CNN. California, Oregon, Illinois, Florida, New York and Rhode Island have all confirmed cases as well. 

When asked if employees who received American evacuees tipped off the spread of the novel coronavirus cases on the West Coast, Azar said it was “absolutely not the case.” 

In a letter to Azar last week, House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal and Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.), requested the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office to provide answers about reports the agency retaliated against the whistleblower, according to Reuters

The lawmakers said the whistleblower reported that when staff raised safety concerns, they were “admonished … for decreasing staff morale, accused of not being team players, and had their mental health and emotional stability questioned,” according to Reuters. 

The whistleblower also alleged being unfairly reassigned after voicing concerns to senior HHS officials. 

While speaking on “Fox News Sunday,” Azar declined to provide details on whether the whistleblower was assigned, saying it would be inappropriate to discuss personnel matters, but added “Nobody would ever be reassigned or discriminated against or prejudiced or retaliated against because of raising concerns about the functioning of the department.” 

Published on Mar 02, 2020