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Whistleblower: US workers treated coronavirus without gear, training

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A whistleblower from the Department of Health and Human Services has alleged that the US sent more than a dozen government workers to assist Americans who were evacuated from Wuhan, China without giving them proper training or protective gear, The Washington Post and The New York Times reported on Thursday.

The whistleblower is reportedly a senior HHS official based in Washington, DC, and oversees employees at the Administration for Children and Families unit within the federal agency.

Wuhan is the center of the global coronavirus outbreak, which has infected 82,000 people — most of them in mainland China — and killed 2,800.

The World Health Organization said on Thursday that the outbreak could become a pandemic, and US public health officials announced this week that they expect it to spread throughout the country as well and potentially disrupt everyday life.

Lawyers for the whistleblower told The Post that the workers sent to help American evacuees did not show symptoms of the infection and have not been tested for the virus.

The Times, which obtained a portion of the complaint that was submitted to the Office of the Special Counsel, reported that the team sent to assist the evacuees was “improperly deployed” to two military bases in California to aid in processing the Americans, who were evacuated from China and elsewhere.

According to The Times, the workers went to Travis Air Force Base and March Air Reserve Base and were ordered to go into quarantined areas without proper training in how to handle infectious diseases and inadequate protective gear. The whistleblower reportedly claims the officials were not trained in how to follow safety protocols until five days later.

As the Times notes, the first case of a US patient becoming infected with coronavirus through “community spread” took place near Travis Air Force Base earlier this week. 

Moreover, the whistleblower alleges that they were unfairly reassigned after flagging their concerns to senior HHS officials, including those who work for HHS Secretary Alex Azar. On February 19, the individual was reportedly told they had 15 days to accept their new job or they would be terminated.

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