HHS whistleblower says federal workers may have been exposed to coronavirus

While deaths from the novel coronavirus are continuing to mount overseas, the U.S. has thus far avoided an outbreak of COVID-19. But if a new whistleblower complaint holds any water, that may be about to change.

According to a Thursday report from The Washington Post, an anonymous senior official at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has alleged that the department “sent more than a dozen workers to receive the first Americans evacuated from Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, without proper training for infection control or appropriate protective gear.”

The official reportedly added in their complaint that the workers “did not show symptoms of infection,” but also “were not tested for the virus,” according to the Post.

Another whistleblower

The senior official’s lawyers told the Post that she “has decades of experience” and received “two HHS department awards from [HHS Secretary Alex] Azar last year.” Despite this, the whistleblower said in her complaint that she faced retaliatory measures after raising her concerns, including reassignment, according to the Post.

She was reportedly told on Feb. 19 that “if she does not accept the new position in 15 days…she would be terminated.”

Her complaint is based on an alleged incident wherein “workers were in contact with passengers in an airplane hangar where [Wuhan] evacuees were received and on two other occasions: when they helped distribute keys for room assignments and hand out colored ribbons for identification purposes,” the Post reported.

The workers were not tested, monitored, or quarantined after their return, the complaint alleges.

The complaint was filed with the Office of the Special Counsel, and the complainant is seeking the legal protection that comes with having whistleblower status.

Government response

HHS spokeswoman Caitlin Oakley has responded to the allegations by insisting that the issue will be looked at thoroughly.

“We take all whistleblower complaints very seriously and are providing the complainant all appropriate protections under the Whistleblower Protection Act,” she told the Post. “We are evaluating the complaint and have nothing further to add at this time.”

In the meantime, the number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus disease in the U.S. remains in the double digits — but the numbers are growing. California’s Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) addressed his state’s response in a press conference on Thursday.

“We have 33 confirmed positive tests for the virus. Five individuals have subsequently moved out of state,” Newsom told reporters, according to The Hill. “We are not overreacting nor are we underreacting to the understandable anxiety many people have.”

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