Health Official Warns of Botched COVID-19 Management by Trump
WASHINGTON – A whistleblower on the Trump administration’s response to coronavirus warned Congress Thursday that threats from the disease are greater than most government officials are willing to admit.
The pandemic will “get worse and be prolonged” without a better plan for fast action on national testing and vaccine distribution, said Dr. Rick Bright, who headed the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Agency until last month.
He was fired and switched to a lesser job at the National Institutes of Health after criticizing the Trump administration for what he described as a bungled response to the coronavirus outbreak.
“Without better planning, 2020 could be the darkest winter in modern history,” Bright told the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on health.
He added, “The window is closing to address this pandemic.”
Bright accused Trump and his advisors of trying to politicize management of the pandemic rather than following a strategy based on science.
An example he mentioned was when President Trump promoted the anti-malaria drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine as treatments for coronavirus despite minimal evidence they were effective.
He also said he was pressured to direct millions of dollars in government contracts to the clients of a politically-powerful consultant.
Bright’s testimony drew criticism from Trump Thursday.
In a Twitter message the president wrote, “I don’t know the so-called Whistleblower Rick Bright, never met him or even heard of him, but to me he is a disgruntled employee, not liked or respected by people I spoke to and who, with his attitude, should no longer be working for our government!”
Trump gave assurances the pandemic will be under control in the United States soon during an interview with Fox Business.
“I think we will have a vaccine by the end of the year,” he said.
Bright’s testimony conflicted sharply with statements by the president.
He said a vaccine might be ready within a year to a year-and-a-half if “everything goes perfectly.” However, he added, “We’ve never seen everything go perfectly.”
He said the Department of Health and Human Services has “no plan” for mass production even if a vaccine becomes available soon.
Bright testified that he tried to warn Trump administration officials in January about a lack of N95 masks that would provide the best protection for health care workers and the public. Their slow response to build a national stockpile resulted in scarce protection for health care workers and a dependence on foreign countries to supply the masks, he said.
“Lives were endangered and I believe lives were lost,” Bright said.
He testified while a whistleblower complaint he filed with the Department of Health and Human Services still is being investigated. He claims he was fired for publicly denouncing Trump’s assertions hydroxychloroquine could effectively treat coronavirus.
The department’s Office of Special Counsel has recommended that Bright be reinstated in his old job at least temporarily while the investigation continues. Its preliminary report showed “reasonable grounds” to believe Bright endured retaliation in his job reassignment.
Some Republicans on the congressional subcommittee questioned whether the timing of Bright’s testimony was appropriate while the government is struggling to contain the virus.
Rep. Richard Hudson, a North Carolina Republican, said Bright’s whistleblower complaint was not the issue as much as “undermining the administration during a national and global crisis.”