Records from the Department of Veterans Affairs in response to American Oversight’s request for all daily briefings and situation reports prepared for leadership officials regarding the Covid-19 pandemic. These records include calendars and communications for Secretary Robert Wilkie from February to March 2020. Details on the content of these records are below.
Feb. 1, 2020: Paul Kim, the executive director of the Veterans Health Administration’s Office of Emergency Management, sent an email detailing VA emergency personnel’s involvement in the “second wave of repatriation,” referring to efforts to bring Americans who were abroad back to the U.S. in light of the spread of Covid-19.
Kim wrote, “CDC and HHS has assured us that as long as PPE protocols are strictly followed, there are no breaks in the integrity of PPE [and] the chance of virus transmission to a screener is 0.” He continued: “I have been assured at each step there is little to no risk for infection. HHS and CDC are very grateful for VHA stepping up to assist with this response and have made this fact known to the White House.”
Feb. 2, 2020: Kim wrote that the Department of Health and Human Services was having difficulty securing a contract “for feeding the evacuees” and had requested VA assistance. According to the records, Kim initially told HHS that the VA would not be able to help, but after he consulted other officials, the agency offered assistance.
Feb. 3, 2020: Kim quoted an announcement from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention that stated, “Be careful NOT to describe evacuees as ‘U.S. citizens.’ There may be some foreign nationals (not China) on these flights.” Kim wrote that “HHS was also surprised” by the CDC statement and said, “I had direct conversations with HHS that if this statement is true we will be pulling our DEMPS [Disaster Emergency Medical Personnel System] personnel.”
Feb. 9, 2020: Kim wrote that 812 individuals had been evacuated and were in quarantine, 10 of whom had been labeled persons under investigation.
Feb. 10, 2020: Kim wrote that there was an ongoing discussion on “where and when” a possible repatriation from the Diamond Princess cruise ship would occur.
Feb. 14, 2020: Kim wrote, “HHS is preparing for additional repatriation missions from Japan. No details at this time — once I type any details they will change as soon as I hit send.”
Feb. 16, 2020: Kim sent updates about the repatriation of passengers from the Diamond Princess. He wrote that two aircrafts in Japan were set to return to the U.S. by Feb. 17. He also stated that two veterans had been identified on the ship and that many of the evacuees “have expressed anger at the US Govt. due to the requirement to be quarantined for an additional 14 days upon their arrival on US soil.”
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