Two whistleblowers who worked at a migrant detention facility in El Paso, Texas, said they were instructed by top Biden administration officials to downplay a coronavirus outbreak among the hundreds of unaccompanied minors staying there.
Arthur Pearlestein and Lauren Reinhold, both of whom identified themselves as “volunteer detailees at the Fort Bliss Emergency Intake Site” from April to June, said Department of Health and Human Services officials told them and others working at the facility to “make everything sound positive” and “play down anything negative” to the media.
The order came as dozens of children staying in the facility tested positive for COVID-19.
“COVID was widespread among children and eventually spread to many employees,” the whistleblowers said in a complaint.
“Hundreds of children contracted COVID in the overcrowded conditions,” it continued. “Adequate masks were not consistently provided to children, nor was their use consistently enforced. Every effort was made to downplay the degree of COVID infection at the site, and the size of the outbreak was deliberately kept under wraps.”
Pearlstein said a U.S. public health service manager told him, “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.”
The pair also said that when they tried to voice concerns about the coronavirus outbreak or the childrens’ living conditions, they were “dismissed” by higher-ups.
Meanwhile, many of the migrant children were suffering from major “depressive episodes,” they wrote.
“Major depression and depressive episodes were commonplace among the children,” the report read.
“Mr. Pearlstein personally interviewed or worked with dozens of children who had symptoms of serious depression, including some who expressed suicidal thoughts,” it continued. “Many of his colleagues did as well.”
At one point, Reinhold said she witnessed construction workers “lewdly and loudly” gawking at underage migrant girls who were making their way to a meal tent.
She also witnessed a riot break out in the boys’ tents, which were “filthy” and covered in “wet spots” on the floors.