WASHINGTON — America faces the “darkest winter in modern history” unless leaders act decisively to prevent a rebound of the coronavirus, says a government whistleblower who alleges he was ousted from his job after warning the Trump administration to prepare for the pandemic.
Immunologist Dr. Rick Bright makes his sobering prediction in testimony prepared for his appearance Thursday before the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Aspects of his complaint about early administration handling of the crisis are expected to be backed up by testimony from an executive of a company that manufactures respirator masks.
A federal watchdog agency has found “reasonable grounds” that Bright was removed from his post as head of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority after sounding the alarm at the Department of Health and Human Services. Bright alleged he became a target of criticism when he urged early efforts to invest in vaccine development and stock up on supplies.
“Our window of opportunity is closing,” Bright says in his prepared testimony posted on the House committee website. “If we fail to develop a national co-ordinated response, based in science, I fear the pandemic will get far worse and be prolonged, causing unprecedented illness and fatalities.”
Bright’s testimony follows this week’s warning by Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, that a rushed lifting of store-closing and stay-at-home restrictions could “turn back the clock,” seeding more suffering and death and complicating efforts to get the economy rolling again.
President Donald Trump on Thursday dismissed Bright in a tweet as “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!” It’s a sentiment some of the president’s political allies have expressed about Fauci as well.
More than 84,000 people have died in the U.S., representing more than one-fourth of global deaths and the world’s highest toll, according to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University. On the planet more than 4.3 million have been infected and about 298,000 have died.
Eager to restart the U.S. economy, Trump has been urging states to lift restrictions, and many governors are doing so gradually, though consumers remain leery of going back to restaurants, social events and sporting competitions.
In his prepared testimony, Bright said, “The undeniable fact is there will be a resurgence of (COVID-19) this fall, greatly compounding the challenges of seasonal influenza and putting an unprecedented strain on our health care system.”
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“Without clear planning and implementation of the steps that I and other experts have outlined, 2020 will be darkest winter in modern history,” Bright wrote.