As the White House faces its first true crisis not created by President Trump, the government’s on-the-ground handling of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus is not inspiring much confidence in the president’s claim that his administration is “totally prepared.” According to a whistle-blower report obtained by the Washington Post, employees with the Department of Health and Human Services were tasked to receive Americans evacuated from Wuhan without proper training or protective gear. Afterward, the workers, who did not show symptoms of infection, were allowed to go home without being tested for the virus; at least one of the HHS staffers left California on a commercial flight.
The official — who filed their complaint to the Office of the Special Counsel and claims that they were improperly reassigned after expressing their concern — describes two instances in which HHS staff were “improperly deployed” at military bases in California where returning Americans were quarantined. While Centers for Disease Control and Prevention personnel were in “full gown, gloves and hazmat attire,” the HHS workers were not trained in wearing such personal protective equipment for their face-to-face interactions with the quarantined patients. The complaint also states that senior HHS officials dismissed the staffers’ health concerns, claiming they were hurting staff “morale,” that they were “accused of not being team players,” and that they had their “mental and emotional stability questioned.”
The report states that around 14 workers for the Administration for Children and Families were sent to the March Air Force base in Riverside County, and another 13 ACF workers were sent to Travis Air Force in Solano County — where the first patient to be infected with coronavirus from an “unknown origin” tested positive this week. As MSNBC host Chris Hayes suggests, the timeline of events in Solano County this week look grim for the handling of the administration’s handling of coronavirus:
Moments before the CDC reported on the first “unknown origin” case, Trump announced that Vice-President Mike Pence — who has been considered responsible for an HIV outbreak in Indiana when he was governor due to his hesitancy to enact needle exchanges — would lead White House messaging on coronavirus. According to the New York Times, Trump delegated the responsibility to Pence because he didn’t “have anything else to do.”