Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) is calling on Trump administration officials to explain its handling of the evacuation of the Diamond Princess cruise ship, after 14 passengers infected with the coronavirus flew on a plane with other travelers despite a warning from the Centers for Disease Control.
The infected passengers were among the 300 Americans evacuated from the cruise ship in Japan and flown home earlier this month.
In a letter sent Wednesday to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar and Centers for Disease Control director Robert Redfield, the 2020 presidential candidate cited recent reports the CDC recommended that the 14 infected passengers, who tested positive after leaving the cruise ship, remain in Japan instead of fly back with other non-infected travelers. The decision to overrule the CDC and place them on the flight reportedly came from the State Department and an HHS official.
The decision to allow the infected passengers to return to the U.S. also reportedly infuriated President Donald Trump.
“The process by which this decision was reportedly made is troubling,” Warren wrote.” As the global coronavirus public health emergency continues, it will be essential for the leadership of all the relevant agencies to have a clear, responsive, and integrated process for responding to new circumstances and incorporating expert advice.”
In her letter, Warren asked for further clarification about which agency was at the top of the chain of command when it came to the ship’s evacuation, and whether there have been any changes to the pecking order. In addition, she asked under what circumstances the State Department can overrule the CDC and if HHS is involved at all in the decision-making process.
The Massachusetts Democrat also inquired about the standard protocol for treating and transporting a U.S. citizen back to America infected with coronavirus in the future.
"These questions are particularly urgent given the announcement yesterday by a top CDC official that 'we expect we will see community spread (of coronavirus) in the United States," Warren said.
Warren’s letter comes amid heightened concerns on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers from both parties have grilled Trump administration officials in recent days over the White House’s handling of the coronavirus.
It also comes as the virus hit South America for the first time, with officials in Brazil announcing on Wednesday that a man who recently returned from Italy, where there have been more than 300 confirmed cases, tested positive for the coronavirus.
Only a handful of Americans have been affected so far, but CDC officials warned this week that the virus could soon become a pandemic. The stock market plummeted on Monday and Tuesday amid rising global fears of severe economic impacts from the virus, which has already disrupted financial markets and economic hubs worldwide — particularly in Asia.
Warren requested a response to her letter by March 11.
Andrew Desiderio contributed to this report.