A whistleblower who was ousted from the Department of Health and Human Services warned a House committee on Thursday that “the window is closing” address the coronavirus pandemic, faulting the Trump administration for not acting quickly to address crisis.
Dr. Rick Bright’s testimony before a House Energy & Commerce subcommittee was carried by CNN and MSNBC. Fox News carried the initial part of the hearing, but then turned to coverage of other news including the case of Michael Flynn.
Bright was removed in April from his position as director of the HHS’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, tasked with developing a vaccine and other measures to fight the virus. He claims that he was transferred to another agency after sounding the arm over the urgency of the virus and then expressing skepticism over the effectiveness of a potential coronavirus treatment, hydroxychloroquine.
In his opening remarks, though, he warned of the dangers for not better preparing for a potential second outbreak of the virus.
“The window is closing to address this pandemic because we still do not have a standard centralized coordinated plan to take this nation through this response,” he said.
He said that “without better planning, 2020 could be the darkest winter in modern history.”
Bright was transferred to a position as a senior adviser at the National Institutes of Health.
Before Bright testified, President Donald Trump tweeted about him. “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!”
At the hearing, Bright said that he tried to urge HHS officials in January and February to address the need for protective medical equipment, including respirators and masks. He said that he was met by “indifference” and “a number of excuses, but never any action.”
He recalled an email exchange with Mike Bowen, of medical supply maker Prestige Ameritech, who indicated that the N95 respirator supply was “completely decimated” and “he said, ‘We’re in deep sh–. The world is. And we need to act.’ And I pushed that forward to the highest levels at HHS and got no response. From that moment I knew we were going to have a crisis for our health care workers because we were not taking action.”
Bright said that he believes that the “best scientific advice and guidance was not being conveyed to the American public during that time. I believe that by not telling America the truth or being fully transparent, regardless of where the information was coming from, people were not as prepared as they could have been and should have been.” He said that people could have trained and forewarned in January and February, and educated on social distancing and wearing a mask.
After his removal, Bright filed a whistleblower complaint, in which he said that his refusal to promote hydroxychloroquine as a coronavirus treatment led to his ouster. At the hearing, he said that his concerns centered on the potential safety risks associated with the drug and that there still was not sufficient data to support its use without sufficient patient supervision.
“When I spoke outside of our government and shared my concerns for the American public, that I believe was the straw that broke the camel’s back and escalated my removal,” he said.
Fox News’ chief political anchor Bret Baier later talked about Bright’s testimony on Outnumbered.
“The president calls him a disgruntled employee but whether he is that or not, he does have a lot of experience,” Baier said. “And he’s telling the story about not being prepared for this pandemic. This is potentially politically damaging for the president as he is talking about getting a handle on the health crisis and open up around the country. He is not discredited easily, this Rick Bright. And in fact, his whistleblower report was very detailed to the point where the federal government itself said that he had standing to make this testimony.”
Later on Monday, Alex Azar, the secretary of health and human services, said, “Everything he was complaining about was achieved. What he walked about was done. He said he talked about the need for respirators. We procured respirators at the president’s direction. He said we need a Manhattan project on a vaccine. We had a Manhattan project.”
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