Via WaPo, February 20, 2020:
In Washington, where it was still Sunday afternoon, a fierce debate broke out: The State Department and a top Trump administration health official wanted to forge ahead. The infected passengers had no symptoms and could be segregated on the plane in a plastic-lined enclosure. But officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention disagreed, contending they could still spread the virus. The CDC believed the 14 should not be flown back with uninfected passengers.
The State Department won the argument. But unhappy CDC officials demanded to be left out of the news release that explained that infected people were being flown back to the United States — a move that would nearly double the number of known coronavirus cases in this country.
During one call, the CDC’s principal deputy director, Anne Schuchat, argued against taking the infected Americans on the plane, according to two participants. She noted the U.S. government had already told passengers they would not be evacuated with anyone who was infected or who showed symptoms. She was also concerned about infection control.
Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who was also on the calls, recalled saying her points were valid and should be considered.
But Robert Kadlec, assistant secretary for preparedness and response for the Department of Health and Human Services and a member of the coronavirus task force, pushed back: Officials had already prepared the plane to handle passengers who might develop symptoms on the long flight, he argued. The two Boeing 747s had 18 seats cordoned off with 10-foot-high plastic on all four sides. Infectious disease doctors would also be onboard.
“We felt like we had very experienced hands in evaluating and caring for these patients,” Kadlec said at a news briefing Monday.
The State Department made the call. The 14 people were already in the evacuation pipeline and protocol dictated they be brought home, said William Walters, director of operational medicine for the State Department.
As the State Department drafted its news release, the CDC’s top officials insisted that any mention of the agency be removed.
Read the full report below.
Anyone know if the State Department has a Task Force for Covid-19 already? It looks like U.S. citizens in Hubei Province or those with information about U.S. citizens in Hubei are advised to contact the U.S. Embassy or the State Department at the same email address: CoronaVirusEmergencyUSC@state.gov.
Excerpt from State Dept Special Briefing on Repatriation ofo U.S. Citizens from the Diamond Princess Cruise Ship, February 17, 2020:
OPERATOR: The line of Alex Horton from Washington Post has been opened. Please, go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah, thanks, everyone, for jumping on this call on a holiday. So I was curious about when discussion with the CDC was executed to make this call. Based on their press release a few days ago, they said there would be screening to prevent symptomatic travelers from departing Japan. The press release you guys issued is very carefully worded when you said, “After consulting HHS, the State Department made the decision to allow those individuals to go on,” those 14.
So is there daylight with CDC and HHS in this decision by you guys to send them forward, and what were some of their objections that you – that you seem to have overturned?
DR WALTERS: This is Dr. Walters. What I’d say is that the chief of mission, right, through the U.S. embassy, is ultimately the head of all executive branch activities. So when we are very careful about taking responsibility for the decision, the State Department is – that is the embassy. The State Department was running the aviation mission, and the decision to put the people into that isolation area initially to provide some time for discussion and for onward, afterwards, is a State Department decision.
There is a – I think where you might see the appearance of a discrepancy is in the definition of symptomatic. Symptomatic – when we use the word “symptomatic,” we’re talking about coughing and sneezing and fever and body aches. Those are symptoms, all right? And as Dr. Kadlec laid out and I reinforced, each one of these 338  people was evaluated by an experienced medical provider, and none of them had symptoms.
Once they were on the bus, we received information about a lab test that had been done two or three days earlier. But it is, in fact – it is a fact that no symptomatic patients – no one with a fever or a cough or lower respiratory tract infection or body aches, or anything that would lead one to believe this person is infected with the virus was – none of that was in place before – at the time a decision was made to evacuate these folks.
Is anyone in charge of this response? How can the State Department do something over the objection of the CDC? Who decided which agency got to decide? That's why you need WH coordination. https://t.co/fPND6FC3xN
— Ronald Klain (@RonaldKlain) February 20, 2020
This indicates a pretty chaotic and reactive decision-making process in the administration. How on earth were they not ready for this contingency? And why is the State Dept trumping the CDC on matters of public health precautions?! https://t.co/YnY32TQHdw
— Jeremy Konyndyk (@JeremyKonyndyk) February 20, 2020
The State Department and a Trump official wanted 14 patients with coronavirus to fly home with the rest of the cruise passengers. The CDC objected, lost & demanded to be taken off the news release. @ByLenaSun @LennyMBernstein @ShibaniMahtani @JoelAchenbach https://t.co/kLD8WDfEDD
— Laura Helmuth (@laurahelmuth) February 20, 2020
The evacuation of the Diamond Princess cruise ship became a sprint to find hospital beds for 14 Americans who tested positive for the new coronavirus https://t.co/gnwVHu92Ac
— The Wall Street Journal (@WSJ) February 20, 2020