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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

2 hours ago - World

U.S. will give Russians written response to NATO demands, Blinken says

Blinken and Lavrov shake hands in Geneva. Photo: Russian Foreign Ministry / Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed after a meeting with his Russian counterpart on Friday that the U.S. will provide written answers to Russia's security demands next week.

Why it matters: Russia claims to be waiting for "concrete answers" to its demands that NATO rule out further expansion and roll back its presence in eastern Europe before deciding its next steps on Ukraine. But the U.S. and NATO have called those proposals "non-starters," and Friday's meeting offered no breakthroughs, so it's unclear how written answers might change the equation.

More surprises await scientists at Antarctica's "Doomsday Glacier"

Cliffs along the edge of the Thwaites Ice Shelf in West Antarctica. Photo: James Yungel/NASA

Researchers like David Holland, an atmospheric scientist at New York University, are in a race to understand the fate of a massive glacier in West Antarctica that has earned a disquieting nickname: "The Doomsday Glacier."

Why it matters: Studies show the Thwaites Glacier (its official name) could already be on an irreversible course to melt during the next several decades to centuries, freeing up enough inland ice to raise global sea levels by at least several feet.

Updated 4 hours ago - Health

The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Omicron's blitz around the world has underscored the need for a new arsenal of COVID vaccines and therapeutics, experts say — and that may require an effort akin to Operation Warp Speed 2.0.

Why it matters: The virus will continue to evolve, potentially in a way that further escapes vaccine protection, and the best way to prevent more global disruptions to everyday life is to have tools ready to combat whatever comes next.