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Whistleblower: Workers Caring For Quarantined Americans At March Air Reserve Base Were Not Properly Trained, Did Not Wear Protective Gear

RIVERSIDE (CBSLA) — A government whistleblower complaint says federal health employees interacted with Americans quarantined at March Air Reserve Base in Moreno Valley for possible exposure to coronavirus without proper medical training or protective gear, then went back out into the public.

Rep. Mark Takano, D-Riverside, says he has asked for an immediate briefing from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Health and Human Service, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense in light of the allegations.

"I am extremely concerned and alarmed by the allegations a senior official at HHS has raised in a whistleblower complaint regarding HHS workers who received evacuees from Wuhan, China at March Air Reserve Base and other bases in California," Takano said in a statement. "According to the whistleblower complaint, HHS employees were not properly trained on safety procedures prior to engaging with evacuees, and they failed to wear proper safety equipment while monitoring the health of these individuals."

News of the whistleblower complaint was first published in The Washington Post, which reported the whistleblower is seeking federal protection because she alleges she was unfairly and improperly reassigned after raising concerns. The New York Times obtained a portion of the complaint shared with Congress, in which the whistleblower said she received panicked calls about staff being sent into quarantined areas without personal protective equipment, training or experience in managing public health emergencies, safety protocols and the potential danger to themselves and members of the public.

The whistleblower was part of a team from HHS deployed to help connect the evacuees with government assistance. Team members had gloves and masks sometimes, but did not have full protective gear, received no training on protecting themselves in a viral hot zone, and did not have respirators, while workers from the CDC were in full gear to keep from getting sick.

"These allegations are very serious and must be investigated given the potential consequences this could have on the public health of our community and communities across the country," Takano said in his statement.

Personnel in biological hazard suits await passengers evacuated from Wuhan, the Chinese city at the heart of a growing outbreak of the deadly 2019 Novel Coronavirus shortly after the plane landed at March Air Reserve Base in Riverside, California on January 29, 2020. - Some 200 US citizens evacuated from Wuhan were met on the tarmac by emergency vehicles and three buses. The Department of Defense said the evacuees will be sent to local hospitals if they are suspected of being infected with the 2019 Novel Coronavirus. The epidemic has killed more than 130 people and spread around the world since it first emerged in a live food market in Wuhan in December. (Photo by Matt HARTMAN / AFP) (Photo by MATT HARTMAN/AFP via Getty Images)

Last month, March Air Reserve Base received the first 195 Americans evacuated from Wuhan, China, where the coronavirus outbreak originated. Nearly 84,000 have been confirmed infected, and more than 2,800 have died across the globe. While China's rate of infection appears to have slows, new outbreaks in Italy, Iran and South Korea have heightened concerns of a possible pandemic and rattled world stock markets. Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America just recently reported their first cases.

Cases in the U.S. have remained relatively low, but a woman in California's Solano County was reported earlier this week to be the nation's first case of community transmission. The woman has not traveled recently or had contact with someone known to be infected, and health officials don't know how she contracted the infection. Because she first was being treated for flu-like symptoms, dozens of hospital workers who came into contact with her before she tested positive for coronavirus are being monitored, and there is an investigation into all her contacts.

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