A Health and Human Services employee is seeking whistleblower protection after reporting that more than a dozen workers were sent without training for infection control or appropriate protective gear when receiving the first Americans brought home from Wuhan, China, the coronavirus outbreak's epicenter.
Lawyers for the woman, described as a senior official who oversees workers at the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), said the workers have not shown signs of infection, but they also have not been tested for the virus, reports The Washington Post.
The woman filing the report says she wants federal protection as a whistleblower because she was reassigned after raising concerns about the workers to HHS officials, including staff at Secretary Alex Azar's office.
She was told Feb. 19 if she did not accept her new job in 15 days, or by March 5, she will be fired.
Her lawyers described her as an employee with decades of experience who received two department awards from Azar himself and has gotten the department's highest performance evaluations.
Her lawyers provided the Post with a redacted copy of the report that was filed with the Office of the Special Counsel, an independent federal watchdog agency. In her complaint, she says the workers had potentially been exposed, as they had face-to-face contact with returning passengers, in an airplane hangar where they were received, when they helped distribute their room keys, and when they handed out colored ribbons for identification.
HHS spokeswoman Caitlin Oakley said the agency is evaluating the complaint, and it takes all whistleblower complaints seriously. The woman is being provided all appropriate protections under the Whistleblower Protection Act, she also said.
The personnel involved include 14 people from the ACF, who were sent to March Air Force base in Riverside County, California in California and another team of about 13 ACF personnel who went to Travis Air Force in Fairfield, California.
Several people within HHS objected to the move to send them.
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