Dr. Rick Bright warns U.S. faces the ‘darkest winter in modern history’ without a plan


Ahead of his testimony today, “whistleblower” Dr. Rick Bright, former director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, in his prepared remarks submitted to a subcommittee of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, warned that the United States faces the “darkest winter in modern history” if it does not develop a more coordinated national response to the coronavirus before an expected resurgence later this year. Ousted vaccine official to warn of ‘darkest winter’ if virus returns without better response:

“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 COVID19 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 darkest winter in modern history.”

The first priority, he says, is being “truthful with the American people.”

“They want the truth. They can handle the truth,” Bright says.

As David Graham details at The Atlantic, Donald Trump Has No Plan. The plan is not to have a plan. “Winter is coming.”

Let’s begin here: Team Trump Pushes CDC to Revise Down Its COVID Death Counts:

President Donald Trump and members of his coronavirus task force are pushing officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to change how the agency works with states to count coronavirus-related deaths. And they’re pushing for revisions that could lead to far fewer deaths being counted than originally reported, according to five administration officials working on the government’s response to the pandemic.

Though he has previously publicly attested to the accuracy of the COVID-19 death count, the president in recent weeks has privately raised suspicion about the number of fatalities in the United States, which recently eclipsed 80,000 recorded deaths. In talks with top officials, Trump has suggested that those numbers could have been incorrectly tallied or even inflated by current methodology, two individuals with knowledge of those private comments said.

As Stephen Colbert recently quipped, “First he was a birther, now he’s a deather, and if there was any justice, he would be a lifer.”

The White House has pressed the CDC, in particular, to work with states to change how they count coronavirus deaths and report them back to the federal government, according to two officials with knowledge of those conversations. And Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the administration’s coronavirus task force, has urged CDC officials to exclude from coronavirus death-count reporting some of those individuals who either do not have confirmed lab results and are presumed positive or who have the virus and may not have died as a direct result of it, according to three senior administration officials.

Officials inside the CDC, five of whom spoke to The Daily Beast, said they are pushing back against that request, claiming it could falsely skew the mortality rate at a time when state and local governments are already struggling to ensure that every person who dies as a result of the coronavirus is counted.

This puts Dr. Deborah Birx, who always appears to be far too eager to please “Dear Leader” rather than defend the science at odds with her colleague Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert, who testified before Congress on Tuesday that the coronavirus death toll in the United States is “almost certainly higher” than the reported 80,000 figure. Fauci Testifies U.S. Coronavirus Death Toll Is Likely Underreported:

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading expert on infectious diseases, told the Senate Health Committee on Tuesday that the true coronavirus death toll is likely higher than what has been reported so far and cautioned Americans that going back to normal life too soon could lead to major spikes in cases.

“I don’t know the exact precent that it’s higher, but certainly, it’s higher,” Fauci said of the death toll in response to a question from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

More people have probably died of the virus in New York City in particular, Fauci said, considering the extent the city’s health care system has been bogged down.

“There may have been people who died at home who did have COVID who were not counted as COVID because they had not gotten to the hospital,” he said.

The CDC maintains a statistical page for Excess Deaths Associated with COVID-19. And as the New York Times reported, U.S. Coronavirus Death Toll Is Far Higher Than Reported, C.D.C. Data Suggests:

Total deaths in seven states that have been hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic are nearly 50 percent higher than normal for the five weeks from March 8 through April 11, according to new death statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That is 9,000 more deaths than were reported as of April 11 in official counts of deaths from the coronavirus.

The new data is partial and most likely undercounts the recent death toll significantly. But it still illustrates how the coronavirus is causing a surge in deaths in the places it has struck, probably killing more people than the reported statistics capture. These increases belie arguments that the virus is only killing people who would have died anyway from other causes. Instead, the virus has brought a pattern of deaths unlike anything seen in recent years.

If you look at the provisional deaths from all causes, death counts in New York, New Jersey, Michigan, Massachusetts, Illinois, Maryland and Colorado have spiked far above their normal levels for the period.

Coronavirus-excess-deathsNote: The 2020 lines in the charts are provisional data through April 11. The end of the first week of each month is labeled.

These are the “excess deaths” associated with COVID-19 but not yet verified by testing that Trump does not want counted. Trump has previously said that he wants the numbers kept as low as possible, Politico reported. The “Trump Body Count” surpassed 85,000 deaths today, but with likely COVID cases not yet confirmed by testing, that number in all probability far exceeds 100,000.

Now to the “whistleblower” Dr. Rick Bright’s testimony today. Cameron Peters at Vox reports, Ousted whistleblower warns US is heading toward “darkest winter in modern history”:

Dr. Rick Bright, previously the director of a US research agency working on a coronavirus vaccine, testified Thursday morning to a House subcommittee that “without better planning, 2020 could be the darkest winter in modern history.”

Bright warned lawmakers in his testimony before the health subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee that the US needs to take “simple but critical steps” to control the coronavirus pandemic and head off a disastrous second wave of infections this winter.

“We need to have the right testing for everyone who needs it. We need to be able to trace contacts, isolate, quarantine, and appropriately — while striving to develop a cure,” Bright said. “There will be plenty of time to look back to assess what has happened so we can improve, but right now, we need to focus on getting things right going forward.”

He also told the committee in his opening statement that he believes a Covid-19 vaccine is a question of when, not if, but cautioned that “12 to 18 months is an aggressive schedule and I think it will take longer than that” to manufacture a vaccine.

Until last month, Bright led the Department of Health and Human Services’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA). He alleges that his removal from that post was an act of retaliation by Trump administration officials because he resisted a push by the White House to promote unproven coronavirus treatments using hydroxychloroquine.

In his opening statement, Bright backed Tuesday’s Senate testimony by Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert and a member of the White House coronavirus task force.

“Dr. Fauci delivered a message in a voice that’s clear and trustworthy as he encouraged us to act with caution as we return to our daily lives,” Bright said. “We must increase the public education about the basics — washing hands, social distancing, appropriate face covering.”

Bright’s written testimony, submitted ahead of Thursday’s hearing, had an even stronger warning: that without clear planning and quick action, the coming winter will be the darkest in recent history. He modulated that warning slightly on Thursday but still struck a sobering note.

“If we fail to improve our response now, based on science, I fear the pandemic will get worse and be prolonged,” Bright said. “There will be likely a resurgence of Covid-19 this fall, and it will greatly compound the challenges of seasonal influenza.”

In his written testimony, Bright describes “dismissive” HHS leadership. He said that, as early as January, he warned the department to ramp up production of ventilators, personal protective equipment, and testing swabs in anticipation of a pandemic, and that his warnings were ignored.

“I was met with indifference, saying they were either too busy, they didn’t have a plan, they didn’t know who was responsible for procuring those,” Bright said of his push for HHS to obtain more PPE. “A number of excuses. But never any action.”

Bright also said in prepared testimony that he was “cut out of key high-level meetings to combat COVID-19.”

Bright is sounding the alarm about Trump’s politicization of medical science

In April, Bright filed a whistleblower complaint over his removal from the top BARDA job. In the complaint, he claims that he resisted a White House push to promote and fund the now-discredited antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine as a potential coronavirus remedy over more promising solutions.

“Sidelining me in the middle of this pandemic and placing politics and cronyism ahead of science puts lives at risk and stunts national efforts to safely and effectively address this urgent public health crisis,” Bright wrote in the letter.

The complaint was first reported by Michael D. Shear and Maggie Haberman of the New York Times.

The Office of the Special Counsel has since concluded that there are “reasonable grounds” to believe that Bright was retaliated against and that he should be reinstated to his former job as BARDA director.

The same watchdog reportedly found a “substantial likelihood of wrongdoing” in Bright’s removal, according to a statement released by his lawyers Thursday.

During Thursday’s hearing, however, Republicans on the committee focused more on making that case that President Trump had good reason to promote hydroxychloroquine than they did on getting to the bottom of the circumstances surrounding Bright’s removal.

Still with the hydroxychloroquine? On April 24, the FDA again warned consumers against taking hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine unless closely supervised by a healthcare professional, such as in a hospital setting or as part of a clinical trial. The move came after the agency received reports of “serious” side effects such as abnormal heart rhythms and rapid heart beats in COVID-19 patients who were treated with one of these drugs. In some cases, patients died.

Others attacked Bright. Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK), for instance, suggested Bright was trying to “deceive the American people” by taking a medical leave for hypertension, and Rep. Billy Long (R-MO) attempted to spin Bright’s criticism of HHS leadership as an attack on Fauci.

Rep. Long must be confusing Dr. Bright with Trump’s “shadow cabinet” of advisors at Fox News aka Trump TV. The Fox cabinet is trying to get Fauci fired: “The right-wing propagandists seem to be on a mission to force the top infectious disease expert’s removal from the administration amid an ongoing pandemic that has already killed more than 80,000 Americans, and they may have enough influence over the president to succeed.”

Meanwhile, during a Q&A with reporters ahead of Trump’s trip to Pennsylvania, administration officials tried to undercut Bright’s testimony by attacking him (otherwise known as whistleblower retaliation).

Axios reports, Trump, Azar attack ousted vaccine doctor as “disgruntled employee”:

  • Trump: “To me, he is nothing more than a really disgruntled, unhappy person. … I don’t know, I never met him, I don’t want to meet him, but I watched him, and he looks like an angry, disgruntled employee who, frankly, according to some people, didn’t do a very good job.”
  • Azar: “Whose job was it to actually lead the development of vaccines? Dr. Bright. So while we’re launching Operation Warp Speed, he’s not showing up to work to be part of that. This is like somebody who was in a choir and is now trying to say he was a soloist back then. What he was saying is what every member of this administration and the president was saying.”

Not exactly responsive to the substance of Dr. Bright’s testimony, is it? It is always distract, deflect, repeat with this administration.

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