Whistleblower Rick Bright plans to tell Congress that “2020 will be the darkest winter in modern history” if the United States ignores warnings from scientists that it’s too early to fully reopen the economy.
Bright, who led the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) until he says Trump administration officials forced him out of his position, is scheduled to testify tomorrow at a House hearing on the topic of “protecting scientific integrity in the COVID-19 response.” Bright’s written testimony was posted online today by the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Health, which is holding the hearing.
While I am unfortunately no longer leading BARDA, I am an expert in these areas and fully understand the grave risks we are facing. I continue to believe that we must act urgently to effectively combat this deadly disease. Our window of opportunity is closing. If we fail to develop a national coordinated response, based in science, I fear the pandemic will get far worse and be prolonged, causing unprecedented illness and fatalities. While it is terrifying to acknowledge the extent of the challenge that we currently confront, the undeniable fact is there will be a resurgence of the COVID-19 this fall, greatly compounding the challenges of seasonal influenza and putting an unprecedented strain on our health care system. Without clear planning and implementation of the steps that I and other experts have outlined, 2020 will be the darkest winter in modern history.
While President Trump is pushing to reopen America and has clashed with state governors over shutdown orders, Bright said the government needs to give the American people “one message in a voice that is clear, consistent, trustworthy, and backed by the best science available.”
“As my colleague Dr. Anthony Fauci testified on May 12, 2020, we must not rush blindly, or act too quickly, in returning to our daily lives,” Bright wrote. “If we ignore the science, we stand a dramatically increased risk of worsening the spread of the virus in the coming months. This could lead to more widespread outbreaks and to many more lives lost throughout the remainder of this year.”
Trump, meanwhile, criticized Fauci for warning that it could be dangerous to reopen schools in the fall. “To me, it’s not an acceptable answer, especially when it comes to schools,” Trump said today, according to CNN. “We’re opening our country. People want it open. The schools are going to be open,” Trump also said.
“New normal” won’t be easy to achieve
Bright wrote that “the normal of 2019 is not going to return, but we all have an opportunity to shape the new normal of 2020 and beyond.” It will take “the participation and cooperation of every American” to achieve that, he said.
“Today, we need clear and simple messages to teach us how wear a face cover, when and how to safely go outside or back to work or back to school. It’s that simple,” he wrote.
Bright said he believes a COVID-19 cure will be found. But in the meantime, he wrote that the US must increase public education about hand-washing, social distancing, face coverings, and self-monitoring; ramp up production of “critical supplies and protective gear” for medical workers and first responders; distribute equipment and supplies equitably in order to “eliminate the state-vs.-state competition”; and develop “a national testing strategy.”
“We need tests that are accurate, rapid, easy to use, low cost, and available to everyone who needs them. We need be able to trust the results so that we can trace contacts, isolate, and quarantine appropriately while striving to develop a cure,” he said.
Whistleblower investigation continues
As we wrote last week, Bright’s whistleblower complaint to the US Office of Special Counsel details how the Trump administration’s COVID-19 response was hampered by cronyism and denial about the virus’s severity. Bright says his early warnings about the pandemic and shortages of critical medical supplies were largely ignored and that he was transferred to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in a “retaliatory demotion.”
Trump dismissed Bright as “a disgruntled employee who’s trying to help the Democrats win an election,” according to NPR. The Department of Health and Human Services has said the agency “strongly disagrees with the allegations and characterizations in the complaint from Dr. Bright.”
But the Office of Special Counsel’s preliminary investigation found “reasonable grounds to believe” that the Trump administration retaliated against Bright in violation of the Whistleblower Protection Act, according to Bright’s lawyers. (The Office of Special Counsel doesn’t comment on open investigations.) An in-depth investigation by the Office is ongoing, and the Trump administration’s handling of Bright is likely to be discussed at tomorrow’s hearing.
Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), who chairs the subcommittee and scheduled tomorrow’s hearing, said last week that Bright’s “complaint deserves examination.”
“Dr. Bright’s whistleblower complaint raises serious concerns about the administration’s COVID-19 response including alleged gross mismanagement, waste of funds, abuse of authority, and scientific censorship,” Eshoo said.