A whistleblower from the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) allegedly claimed that more than a dozen US health professionals tasked with helping to evacuate quarantined Americans from China have not received adequate training or received adequate protective equipment, a measure that may have exposed them to coronavirus.
The complaint alleges that HHS employees were dispatched to Travis and March Air Force bases in California without complete protective equipment and training on how to protect themselves from contracting the virus, and adds that workers who did not show symptoms of infection have not been tested for the disease, American media reported.
The Washington Post reported for the first time on the complaint lodged with the Special Counsel's Office, an independent surveillance agency that investigates whistleblowers' complaints.
The whistleblower, who according to the New York Times is a senior leader in the Department of Health and Human Services, is now seeking federal protection on the grounds that she was unfairly reassigned after raising concerns about worker safety.
One of the whistleblower's lawyers, Ari Wilkenfeld, confirmed the complaint to the American media on Friday.
"We are hopeful that Congress and the CSO will investigate this case in a timely and comprehensive manner," Wilkenfeld told Politico. "This issue concerns HHS's response to the coronavirus and the failure to protect its employees and potentially the public. Retaliation efforts to intimidate and silence our client must be opposed."
Late Thursday, Democratic Senator Ed Markey asked HHS Secretary Alex Azar to resign.
Allowing HHS workers to be exposed to evacuees from Wuhan without adequate protection is a mismanagement that endangers American lives. We need someone in charge who reaches the level of response to that threat. Sec. Azar is not that person. I'm asking him to resign. https://t.co/nXAQEYZf2w
– Ed Markey (@SenMarkey) February 27, 2020
Azar said on Friday that the WE plans to invoke a law called the Defense Production Act to increase the production of protective equipment, including masks and gloves, to fight the coronavirus.
On Wednesday, officials confirmed that a woman in California had contracted the disease from an unknown source, increasing fear of a "community spread" of the virus in the United States.
There are 62 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the U.S., according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These cases include 47 people who have been repatriated.
The coronavirus outbreak originated in China and has spread to 59 countries worldwide, affecting markets, suspended flights and closed schools. It has infected more than 83,000 people and killed almost 3,000 – mostly in China.