Whistle-Blower Reports on U.S. Health Workers Response to Coronavirus Outbreak – The New York Times

The levels of protection varied even while he was at Miramar, he said. Standards were more lax at first, but once people arrived who appeared to be sick, workers began donning personal protective equipment. He is now back at work, and has yet to be tested for coronavirus exposure.

In the complaint, the whistle-blower painted a grim portrait of agency staff members who found themselves on the front lines of a frantic federal effort to confront the coronavirus in the United States without any preparation or training, and whose own health concerns were dismissed by senior administration officials as detrimental to staff “morale.” They were “admonished,” the complaint said, and “accused of not being team players,” and had their “mental health and emotional stability questioned.”

March Air Reserve Base in Riverside, Calif., housed 195 people evacuated from Wuhan, China, for 14 days beginning in late January, while Travis in Northern California has housed a number of quarantined people in recent weeks, including some of the approximately 400 Americans on the Diamond Princess cruise ship that had docked in Japan.

The staff members, who had some experience with emergency management coordination, were woefully underprepared for the mission they were given, according to the whistle-blower.

“They were not properly trained or equipped to operate in a public health emergency situation,” the official wrote. “They were potentially exposed to coronavirus; appropriate measures were not taken to protect the staff from potential infection; and appropriate steps were not taken to quarantine, monitor or test them during their deployment and upon their return home.”

Some of the staff raised concerns with top officials with the agency, but saw no changes. The whistle-blower said they complained to Charles Keckler, an associate deputy secretary at Health and Human Services, in an email on Feb. 10. After the email, the complaint said, top officials, including Lynn Johnson, the assistant secretary for the Administration for Children and Families, “admitted that they did not understand their mission,” and that her agency “broke protocols” because of the “unprecedented crisis” and an “‘all hands on deck’ call to action” by Dr. Robert Kadlec, the top official for public health emergencies and disasters.

Since learning of the whistle-blower’s concerns last Wednesday, Mr. Gomez’s office and officials with the Ways and Means Committee have repeatedly pressed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for details. The whistle-blower has also notified the C.D.C. and the health agency inspector general about the concerns.

Representative Richard E. Neal, Democrat of Massachusetts and chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, said the complaint appeared to be part of a pattern of ineptitude and mistrust of civil servants by the Trump administration.

“The president has spent years assaulting our health care system, draining resources from key health programs, and showing utter disdain for career federal employees who are the backbone of our government,” Mr. Neal said in a statement provided to The Times. “It’s sadly no surprise we’re seeing this degree of ineptitude during a terrible crisis.”

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