On Thursday, a whistleblower revealed that the U.S. personnel who greeted potentially infected arrivals from Wuhan, China, were not given either the protective gear or the training necessary for the situation. Despite being exposed to these evacuees—some of whom have since proven to be carrying the SARS-CoV-2 virus—the workers have still not been tested for COVID-19.
That might seem like a bullet that was dodged, except that just two days ago the CDC confirmed that a U.S. patient who had not traveled outside the country or associated with someone known to be infected was infected with the COVID-19 virus. It was the first case of “community spread” COVID-19 in the nation. And that patient lived in the same county as the location of the incident the whistleblower described.
It’s clear now that the very first time this White House was forced to confront this threat, it fumbled the response. One time may be all it took.
If it’s starting to seem that the Trump White House only does the right thing in response to whistleblowers, that’s not quite true. Even whistleblowers don’t get the right response. They just get a response. And the response is usually the same: attack the whistleblower. That’s the case again in this incident, as the whistleblower has already faced retaliation for reporting her concerns. She has now been reassigned and warned that she faces termination if she doesn’t accept the new assignment.
The reason given for not testing any of the workers is chillingly familiar. According to The Washington Post, they did not “meet the criteria,” which restricted testing to either those people who had been to China or those who were showing symptoms and known to have associated with someone who had been confirmed as having COVID-19. That same reasoning is exactly why the COVID-19 patient currently being treated at the University of California Davis Medical Center was originally refused testing. Doctors at U.C. Davis asked for a test when the patient was transferred from another hospital. They were refused because the patient failed to meet those highly limited criteria. They asked again four days later, and finally got the test that showed that the patient was in fact infected with COVID-19.
That patient lives in Solano County, California. One of the incidents related by the whistleblower took place at Travis Air Force in Solano County. It’s very, very hard to believe that this is a coincidence.
U.S. Davis Medical Center has issued a statement indicating that, while it did not know the patient was sick with COVID-19, it recognized them as carrying an infectious disease and treated them carefully from the outset. However, that doesn’t speak to how the patient was treated at the other hospital before being transferred, or what conditions the patient may have experienced at a doctor’s office in the area before that.
It certainly doesn’t answer the critical question: How many links in the chain are there between the workers who were sent to escort infected passengers off a plane and the patient in a bed at U.C. Davis? Is that patient the spouse or friend of one of those workers? Someone who met them at their house? Or is the patient a friend of a friend of a coworker of a … Or is the chain too long and too tenuous to even be reassembled?
If this is the first case of community spread in the United States, just how big is that community in which the virus is circulating? We simply don’t know.
We don’t know how many people separate those passengers coming down a ramp and the patient in the hospital bed. In the very first instance in which this White House had to deal with a crisis, it fumbled it in a way that is deeply disturbing. That’s not the fault of the passengers on the plane or the workers on the ground or the patient in the bed. The people responsible are on the other side of the country—but that won’t keep them safe.