Dr. Rick Bright, the ousted director of a key federal office charged with developing medical countermeasures, will testify before Congress on Thursday that the Trump administration was unprepared for the coronavirus pandemic and warn that the the US will face “unprecedented illness and fatalities” without additional preparations.
“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,” Bright is expected to say Thursday, according to his prepared testimony obtained by CNN. “Without clear planning and implementation of the steps that I and other experts have outlined, 2020 will be darkest winter in modern history.”
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Bright is set to testify Thursday morning before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s health subcommittee after he filed a whistleblower complaint last week alleging he was removed from his post in retaliation for opposing the broad use of a drug frequently touted by President Donald Trump as a coronavirus treatment.
Bright will reiterate that he believes he was removed from his post because he “resisted efforts to promote and enable broad access to an unproven drug, chloroquine, to the American people without transparent information on the potential health risks.”
Bright is seeking to be reinstated to his position as the head of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) and the Office of Special Counsel, which is reviewing Bright’s complaint, has determined there is reason to believe his removal was retaliatory and is recommending he be reinstated during its investigation, according to Bright’s attorneys.
A Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson responded that it was “a personnel matter that is currently under review” but said it “strongly disagrees with the allegations and characterizations.”
Expanding on his whistleblower complaint, Bright is expected to testify that he sought to warn his superiors about potential shortages of critical medical supplies earlier this year, but that his “urgency was dismissed” and that he “faced hostility and marginalization from HHS officials” after conveying his concerns about shortages to a senior White House official, Peter Navarro.
“As I reflect on the past few months of this outbreak, it is painfully clear that we were not as prepared as we should have been. We missed early warning signals and we forgot important pages from our pandemic playbook,” Bright will testify, according to his written testimony.
In his written testimony, Bright also calls for several key steps to improve the federal government’s response to the pandemic and head off a spike in cases in the fall, including increasing public education of preventative measures, ramping up production of essential medical supplies and developing a national testing strategy.
“The virus is out there, it’s everywhere. We need to be able to find it, to isolate it and to stop it from infecting more people,” Bright plans to say. “We need tests that are accurate, rapid, easy to use, low cost, and available to everyone who needs them.”