A pair of stories broke late Thursday afternoon concerning a Health and Human Services (HHS) whistleblower with a fatal series of charges that, if true, means the Coronavirus outbreak in the United States was caused by the ineptitude of the Trump administration.
First reported on as an exclusive by The Washington Post–and quickly followed up on by The New York Times–both stories note that an HHS whistleblower filed an official complaint with the Office of the Special Counsel after alleging that she was retaliated against for voicing concerns. The whistleblower, who is seeking protection, is reportedly an award-winning expert in her field with decades of relevant experience with impeccable performance ratings.
“In case the Ukraine saga didn’t make it clear enough, whistleblowers are a critical component in informing the public on matters of obvious importance,” noted national security attorney Bradley P. Moss. “If the whistleblower allegations are true, the exposure to the public health could be serious and significant.”
The complaints being made by that whistleblower-expert:
(1) U.S. workers were sent to the epicenter of the Coronavirus outbreak without proper training or protective gear; (2) those same employees were not tested for the Coronavirus; (3) many of those employees returned home on a commercial flight; (4) after raising concerns about the wisdom of 1-3, she was allegedly reassigned and faced termination for speaking up through the chain-of-command.
First the whistleblower complained to Associate Deputy HHS Secretary Charles Keckler. That email caused the administration to run around like chickens with their heads cut off. HHS officials like Lynn Johnson quickly “admitted that they did not understand their mission” and “broke protocols” due to the “unprecedented crisis” and the infamous “‘all hands on deck’ call to action” by Dr. Robert Kadlec.
According to the complaint, the whistleblower’s concerns were scorned as having a negative impact on agency “morale.” Others who shared her concerns were allegedly “admonished” and “accused of not being team players” while also having their “mental health and emotional stability questioned.”
An extended section of that complaint notes:
I soon began to field panicked calls from my leadership team and deployed staff members expressing concerns with the lack of H.H.S. communication and coordination, staff being sent into quarantined areas without personal protective equipment, training or experience in managing public health emergencies, safety protocols and the potential danger to both themselves and members of the public they come into contact with.
“They were not properly trained or equipped to operate in a public health emergency situation,” the whistleblower’s complaint notes. “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.”
The complaint also relayed a frantic and disgusted phone call with other agency personnel and experts–using inflammatory language to describe how career public health experts categorized the Republican administration’s initial response and follow-up. Words like “whitewashing,” “corrupt,” and “cover-up.”
“[F]airly likely it seems that the dipshit cronies staffing the Trump regime bungled their way into sparking a Covid-19 superflu cluster,” tweeted The Week National Correspondent Ryan Cooper.
The whistleblower’s shocking allegations come one day after a patient in Sacramento, California was believed to be the first case of so-called “community transmission” of the Covid-19 Wuhan Coronavirus. A community spread or transmitted illness means that health experts cannot trace the lineage of where the infection occurred. As the Times importantly notes of Travis Air Force Base, which is located about 40 miles outside of Sacramento:
The staff members were sent to Travis Air Force Base and March Air Reserve Base and were ordered to enter quarantined areas, including a hangar where coronavirus evacuees were being received. They were not provided training in safety protocols until five days later, the person said.
Without proper training or equipment, some of the exposed staff members moved freely around and off the bases, with at least one person staying in a nearby hotel and leaving California on a commercial flight. Many were unaware of the need to test their temperature three times a day.
“[T]he community transmission in [California] we learned about yesterday is, on a plain reading of this report, likely attributable to federal mismanagement and Trump-driven desire to avoid politically damaging stories—which are probably related phenomena,” suggested Crooked Media editor Brian Beutler.
HHS Secretary Alex Azar, for his part, seemingly attempted to deceive Congress when questioned on the matter by Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.) during a briefing on Thursday.
Gomez, who received a copy of the complaint, pressed Azar on whether HHS adjunct Administration for Children and Families (ACF) employees might have been exposed to the Coronavirus without the requisite protection or training.
“To your knowledge, were any of the ACF employees exposed to high-risk evacuees from China?” Gomez asked Azar.
“They should never have been, without appropriate [personal protective equipment],” Azar replied–using a linguistic trick by speaking in the preterite tense. “If you were anyone in quarantine, to maintain quarantine, that should be the case.”
MSNBC’s Chris Hayes described “what appears to be [the] chain of events” this way:
So here's what appears to be chain of events:
The Trump administration repatriated infected Americans over the objections of the CDC.
HHS then sent federal workers to interact with the infected population without adequate training or protection
— Chris Hayes (@chrislhayes) February 27, 2020
When someone at HHS raised alarms about all this s/he was criticized for hurting morale and then ordered to another position or be fired.
This is real real real bad.
— Chris Hayes (@chrislhayes) February 27, 2020
[image via Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]
Editor’s note: this story has been amended post-publication for clarity.