Home/Daniel Larison/Blowing the Whistle on the Administration’s Coronavirus Incompetence

Blowing the Whistle on the Administration’s Coronavirus Incompetence

The New York Timesreports on the contents of a whistle-blower complaint in the Department of Health and Human Services that describes the government’s incompetent handling of the quarantining of Americans exposed overseas to the coronavirus. This incompetence appears to have led to the spread of the virus into the general population:

Federal health employees interacted with Americans quarantined for possible exposure to the coronavirus without proper medical training or protective gear, then scattered into the general population, according to a government whistle-blower.

In a portion of a complaint filing obtained by The New York Times that has been submitted to the Office of the Special Counsel, the whistle-blower, described as a senior leader at the health agency, said the team was “improperly deployed” to two military bases in California to assist the processing of Americans who had been evacuated from coronavirus hot zones in China and elsewhere.

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.

The federal government’s response to the coronavirus has been woefully lacking from the start. Between the president’s own attempts to dismiss the severity of the situation and the CDC’s inexplicable delays in testing patients, it is clear that the relevant authorities are not taking this outbreak as seriously as they should be. The administration seems to be more concerned with the damage that the virus could do to the president’s political fortunes than they are with halting its spread and providing the necessary resources to treat those infected by it.

The exposure of federal health workers occurred in the same part of California where the first domestic case of coronavirus recently appeared:

The account surfaced after President Trump sought to play down the danger of a domestic coronavirus outbreak amid bipartisan concern about a sluggish and disjointed response by the administration to an illness that public health officials have said is likely to spread through the United States. The first American case of coronavirus in a patient with no known contact with hot zones or other coronavirus patients emerged near Travis Air Force Base this week.

The article details the inadequacy of the preparation and training provided to the staff that received the evacuees:

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.”

It appears that the administration’s shoddy handling of the situation has already put the public at greater risk of exposure unnecessarily, and this episode hardly inspires confidence that they will be able to manage a larger outbreak here in the U.S.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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