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Americans repatriated from Wuhan, China, arrive at March AFB. Video screenshot, KABC-TV.

The Washington Post published a hell of a story yesterday afternoon, detailing a whistleblower complaint from a senior official in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The official, based in Washington, said 14 HHS employees were deployed to two airbases in California to help with Americans repatriated from Wuhan, China. But according to a redacted copy of the complaint given to the Post by the whistleblower's lawyers, the HHS workers weren't trained to deal with highly infectious diseases, and met face-to-face with the returnees without wearing any protective gear.

Then they were allowed to, like, leave.

The complaint alleges HHS staffers were "improperly deployed" and were "not properly trained or equipped to operate in a public health emergency situation." The complaint also alleges the workers were potentially exposed to coronavirus because appropriate steps were not taken to protect them and staffers were not trained in wearing personal protective equipment, even though they had face-to-face contact with returning passengers. The workers were in contact with passengers in an airplane hangar where evacuees were received and on two other occasions: when they helped distribute keys for room assignments and hand out colored ribbons for identification purposes.

In some instances, the teams were working alongside personnel from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in "full gown, gloves and hazmat attire," the complaint said.

Well that's nice. For her efforts to call attention to the potential risk to the HHS workers, including alerting higher-ups in the office of HHS Secretary Alex Azar, the whistleblower says she was retaliated against by being reassigned to a job outside her area of expertise, and informed if she refuses the reassignment, she'll be fired.

As of blogtime, Donald Trump hasn't yet taken to Twitter to demand she be tried for spying and treason, or to suggest that she merely misunderstood his perfect call with the coronavirus, so there's that.


The official, a management type of some sort in HHS's Administration for Children and Families (ACF), is clearly a member of the Deep State, because she knows what the hell she's doing.

The whistleblower has decades of experience in the field, received two HHS department awards from Azar last year and has received the highest performance evaluations, her lawyers said.

Sounds like the sort of dangerous Never-Trumper an administration of nincompoops shouldn't have to tolerate, all right. And here's an interesting nugget of information the Post story rightly doesn't speculate on, but is certainly suggestive: The ACF staffers were sent to help with repatriated Americans at two Air Force bases in California: March AFB in Riverside County, and Travis AFB in Solano County, California. It's probably just a wild coincidence, but

In Solano County this week, the first U.S. patient was confirmed to be infected with coronavirus who did not travel to a region where it is spreading or have known contact with someone diagnosed with the disease.

Yes, probably just a wild coincidence.

After they were finished helping out at the two airbases, the whistleblower's lawyers say, the ACF workers went back to their normal jobs, some flying commercially back to wherever they normally worked.

"Our client was concerned that ACF staff — who were potentially exposed to the coronavirus — were allowed to leave quarantined areas and return to their communities, where they may have spread the coronavirus to others," said Lauren Naylor, one of the whistleblower's lawyers.

And here's a cute detail that may make it into a future coronavirus equivalent to And The Band Played On:

A second person familiar with the situation said the workers were not tested for coronavirus because none of them met the criteria, which was restricted at that time to people with symptoms and either a recent trip to China or close contact with a person confirmed to be infected with covid19. If the workers had exhibited symptoms, appropriate protocol would have been followed.

Now, it's worth noting that none of the 14 ACF workers have developed covid-19 symptoms, and there's no evidence they've infected anyone else. But the fact remains that they were just plain sent out to do a job they weren't trained to do, and not provided with the infection-control gear that other government employees had while working with the returnees.

The whistleblower herself was not directly involved in the deployment, but was in the loop on ACF communications about it.

She initially supported the efforts because they had the "appearance that this was within ACF's scope," Naylor said. But later, she discovered the teams were dispatched without her knowledge by other senior officials at HHS. It was part of the agency's "all-hands-on-deck" mission, Naylor said, but it broke agency protocol about what kinds of employees should respond to health emergencies. The whistleblower said she later found out about the deployment when she heard directly from some employees and other senior officials at HHS.

The complaint also says that the ACF team leader "on the ground" in California was informed by some of the workers that they were concerned about not being given protective gear. The complaint says that supervisor had

no training or experience in any federal emergency management, public health emergency response, or safety or operational protocols to run the mission.

Hey, remember how we've been saying the Trump administration is just making shit up as it goes along?

This is the sort of thing that happens when an emergency response is largely improvised because you decided to fire all the experts in preparing for a pandemic. Donald Trump said at his coronavirus presser Wednesday that the layoffs were no big deal, because as a businessman, he didn't want a bunch of people just sitting around when they weren't needed. As Wonkette alumnus Gary Legum pointed out, public health doesn't work that way.

Or as another WaPo story points out, setting up an emergency response isn't a thing you do after the emergency is underway:

"You build a fire department ahead of time. You don't wait for a fire," said Tom Inglesby, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. "There is an underappreciation for the amount of time and resources required to build a prepared system."

Then again, while Donald Trump loves big fire trucks, he isn't a big fan of fire prevention in general, now is he?

UPDATE: As an astute commenter pointed out, we have no business using that headline unless we are also going to give you that Mudhoney video:

www.youtube.com

[WaPo / Image: Screenshot from WABC-TV]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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