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HHS Secretary Alex Azar. Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

A government whistleblower says the Department of Health and Human Services sent more than a dozen federal health workers to receive the first American evacuees from China amid the coronavirus outbreak without proper medical training or ample protective gear, the Washington Post first reported.

What they're saying: The whistleblower's complaint filed Wednesday alleges that employees were "not properly trained or equipped to operate in a public health emergency situation," potentially exposing them to the novel coronavirus.

  • The whistleblower also said she was "unfairly and improperly" reassigned after raising concerns about the situation. Per the Post, she was told on Feb. 19 that she must accept a new position within 15 days or be terminated.
  • According to the whistleblower's lawyers, she has decades of experience, received two HHS awards from Sec. Alex Azar in 2019 and has earned strong performance evaluations.

The state of play: Personnel from the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) were deployed to receive evacuees in California, with roughly 14 ACF officials sent to March Air Force Base between Jan. 28-Jan. 31 and approximately 13 sent to Travis Air Force Base between Feb. 2-Feb. 7. The dates of the deployments align with the dates that the first and additional planeloads of evacuees arrived at the respective bases.

  • Per the Post: "Several people within HHS voiced objection to sending the ACF personnel to receive passengers, according to a person familiar with the conversations."

Azar said at a hearing on Thursday that if untrained personnel were exposed to the coronavirus, he'd "want to know the full facts, and we’d take appropriate remedial efforts."

  • “We take all whistleblower complaints very seriously and are providing the complainant all appropriate protections under the Whistleblower Protection Act," HHS spokeswoman Caitlin Oakley said. "We are evaluating the complaint and have nothing further to add at this time.”

The big picture: Reports of the complaint came one day after the CDC detected the first possible community spread of coronavirus in the U.S.

Go deeper

Air quality alerts issued as California fires threaten more sequoias

The Windy Fire blazes through the Long Meadow Grove of giant sequoia trees near the Trail of 100 Giants in Sequoia National Forest, near California Hot Springs, on Tuesday. Photo: David McNew/Getty Images

Two wildfires were threatening California's sequoia trees over overnight, hours after authorities issued fresh evacuation orders and warnings, along with air quality alerts on Wednesday.

The big picture: Officials in the Bay Area and the San Joaquin Valley issued air quality alerts as smoke from the Windy and KNP Complex fires resulted in hazy, "ash-filled" skies from Fresno to Tulare, the Los Angeles Times notes.

Asymptomatic Florida students exposed to COVID no longer have to quarantine

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis during a September news conference in Viera, Fla. Photo: Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) announced Wednesday an emergency order allowing parents to decide whether their children should quarantine or stay in school if they're exposed to COVID-19, provided they're asymptomatic.

Why it matters: People infected with COVID-19 can spread the coronavirus starting from two days before they display symptoms, according to the CDC. Quarantine helps prevent the virus' spread.

Federal judge: Florida ban on sanctuary cities racially motivated

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

A federal judge on Tuesday struck down parts of a Florida law aimed at banning local governments from establishing sanctuary city policies, arguing in part that the law is racially motivated and that it has the support of hate groups.

Why it matters: In a 110-page ruling issued Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom said the law — signed and championed by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) — violates the Constitution's Equal Protection Clause because it was adopted with discriminatory motives.