A U.S. health official who alleges in a whistleblower complaint he was removed from his position for prioritizing science in the government’s coronavirus response is set to tell lawmakers Thursday that the public must be told the truth and not have information “filtered for political reasons.”
“We must know and appreciate what we are up against. We have the world’s greatest scientists – they must be permitted to lead,” Dr. Rick Bright says in text of his opening statement, posted ahead of the hearing by the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Health.
The lawmakers want to know more about the federal government’s response to the outbreak, which has killed more than 84,000 people in the United States.
“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 COVID-19 this fall, greatly compounding the challenges of seasonal influenza and putting an unprecedented strain on our health care system,” Bright says. “Without clear planning and implementation of the steps that I and other experts have outlined, 2020 will be darkest winter in modern history.”
Bright says he began warning leaders at the Department of Health and Human Services in January about a “critical shortage” of protective equipment that health care workers in the United States would need to treat COVID-19 patients.
“I pushed HHS to ramp up U.S. production of masks, respirators and other critical supplies, such as medicine, syringes and swabs. Again, my urgency was dismissed and I was cut out of key high-level meetings to combat COVID-19,” Bright says in his statement.
He says he was met with hostility by HHS leaders, and that officials repeatedly ignored outreach from at least one mask manufacturer that said it had idle mask production lines that could be reactivated with government help.
“HHS strongly disagrees with the allegations and characterizations in the complaint from Dr. Bright,” the agency said in a statement.
Michael Bowen, executive vice president of Prestige Ameritech, confirmed he reached out to Bright about his company’s readiness to produce masks, and says in his own statement to the committee that he warned about mask shortages in the United States for 13 years.
Bowen says HHS, the Defense Department, Department of Veterans Affairs and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention "could have worked together to secure America's mask supply."
Bright suggests in his statement that the government take several steps now, including educating the public on basics such as hand washing, social distancing and proper use of masks. He also advocates for boosting production of essential equipment and supplies, having a system to fairly share them across the country, and putting in place a national testing strategy.