Biden admin ordered employees to downplay COVID cases in migrant children at Texas border facility: whistleblowers

Two whistleblowers are accusing the US Department of Health and Human Services of directing them to downplay the severity of a mass outbreak of COVID-19 amongst migrant children at the Fort Bliss Emergency Intake Site in Texas this year.

Hannah Nightingale Washington DC

Two whistleblowers have accused Biden's Department of Health and Human Services of directing them to downplay the severity of a mass outbreak of COVID-19 amongst migrant children at the Fort Bliss Emergency Intake Site in Texas this year.

According to a document obtained by the Daily Mail, an attorney-adviser at the Social Security Administration named Lauren Reinhold, and a director at the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service named Arthur Pearlstein sent a complaint outlining their concerns and allegations to government watchdogs as well as four Congressional committees on Wednesday.

The two allege that COVID-19 was widespread amongst children in the juvenile facility, with cases eventually spreading to many employees.

"Hundreds of children contracted COVID in the overcrowded conditions," they claim in a document from the Government Accountability Project, an organization that serves to protect whistleblowers.

They claim that masks were not consistently provided to the children, with many wearing basic disposable masks instead of N95 masks. The use of masks was not consistently enforced in the facility as well.

"The manager said N95 masks were unnecessary for the infected – even though uninfected detailees were working with the infected children," states the document.

They allege that "Every effort was made to downplay the degree of COVID infection at the site," and that "the size of the outbreak was deliberately kept under wraps."

"At a 'town hall' meeting with detailees, a senior U.S. Public Health Service manager was asked and refused to say how many were infected because 'if that graph [of infections] is going to The Washington Post every day, it's the only thing we'll be dealing with and politics will take over, perception will take over, and we're about reality, not perception,'" states the document. "All the manager would acknowledge is that several children had to be hospitalized."

Detailees were subjected to confidentiality agreements, and when said detailees reached the end of their term, "a sheet was passed around with detailed instructions from the HHS Public Affairs Office on how, when asked, to make everything sound positive about the Fort Bliss experience and to play down anything negative."

In addition to the COVID-19 outbreak, the pair outlines a number of other allegations including mismanagement and shortages of necessary items.

"For example, the shortage of underwear and other clothing for children has been widely reported. The problem persisted for weeks and months," stated the document. "Countless children reported these shortages to detailees. Boys said they had no underwear at all, while most simply had only one pair with nothing to change into."

Detailees insisted that the children be supplied with clean underwear, suggesting that holders of federal business credit cards buy the supplies at a nearby Walmart or Costco.

"Detailees, private contractors and managers were well aware of the problem. At one meeting a Chenega manager told detailees: 'we are aware there is a shortage of underwear, socks, and shoes, and management knows,'" the document reads.

Shortages like this reportedly persisted for months.

Pearlstein and Reinhold reportedly spent hundreds of their personal funds on books, visual aids, games, and other items for the children.

Leadership reportedly changed their decisions constantly, with children being told they were being sent home then being told they had to return to the facility.

48 children in a bus line who were told they were going home were pulled from line and told to return to their tents. Some groups of children that had already arrived at the airport to go home were "told it was a mistake and brought back to the facility." Some of these children had already boarded flights and were told to get off.

"Detailees on the team to which Mr. Pearlstein was assigned comforted the shocked and distressed children when they were returned to Fort Bliss," stated the document.

Many of the children Pearlstein and Reinhold spoke to had been at the facility for more than 30 days, with some approaching or surpassing 60 days. Some had not spoken to their case manager in months, with others not being assigned a manager at all.

In the dormitory tents set up that housed "as many as 1,200 children, with roughly 10 being set up in May and June that housed between "500 and 1,000 children in each," filth, bullying, and anxiety were reportedly a commonplace.

"The Fort Bliss children did not and could not trust that they were safe, that their basic needs would be met, or that their sponsorship/placement cases were being timely processed. The most frequent complaint heard from children was that they were in a state of total uncertainty and anxiety, with no idea of what to expect next," the document outlines.

Some children reportedly told Pearlstein that they felt like they were in prison, and begged "please get me out of here, I don't know if I can take it anymore." Some children even attempted to escape the facility.


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