Ousted Vaccine Agency Director Will Testify That Our “Darkest Winter” Is Ahead

Rick Bright, the former director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), is testifying before Congress today, and it’s going to be 40 miles of bad road for Donald Trump. It is also going to be the hard, unvarnished truth the entire country needs to hear.

Earlier in the week, Trump had to suffer through the congressional testimony of his hostage, Anthony Fauci, who contradicted Trump’s lethal happy talk about reopening the country while the COVID pandemic still rages. Now Trump has Bright to contend with, and by all reports, Bright will reiterate Fauci’s warning with a side of ghost peppers and actual fire.

“Rick Bright is the former director of BARDA, a Health and Human Services sub-agency whose purview is ‘preparing the nation for influenza pandemics and coordinating production, acquisition and delivery of medical countermeasures during a pandemic response,’” I wrote a little over a week ago.

Bright was demoted from his position specifically because he refused to coddle Trump’s dangerous obsession with chloroquine, the “miracle cure” that was in fact untested and highly dangerous. Bright was also vocally appalled by the stark lack of preparation within the administration, and by White House resistance to moving quickly to address these deeply pressing concerns. Before the pandemic, Bright found himself on the administration’s bad side for refusing to play footsie with pharmaceutical companies tied to Jared Kushner.

So Trump knocked Bright out of the box for “disloyalty,” but now he’s back, and look out below. Bright’s prepared opening statement for his testimony before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s health subcommittee today details the myriad ways the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) blew through warning after warning in their quest for good press and favorable polls, even as the body count spun upward like a Manhattan taxi meter.

“I spoke out then and I am testifying today,” reads the prepared statement, “because science — not politics or cronyism — must lead the way to combat this deadly virus.” Taken as a whole, Bright’s statement is a thunderclap warning to all of us, and a shot across the bow of the foundering USS Trump:

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.

In his statement, Bright makes it clear that the country needs conscientious leadership first and foremost: “[O]ur leaders must lead by modeling the behavior” necessary to keep the virus from spreading, which includes wearing masks and practicing social distancing.

Bright will underscore the mortal need for a comprehensive national strategy, and pause for a moment to encompass the unbelievable fact that we still lack such a plan after all these weeks and with more than 80,000 dead. Bright’s statement calls for “tests that are accurate, rapid, easy to use, low cost, and available to everyone who needs them.” For myself, I believe the tests should be free, but we can have that argument once we actually have the damn tests.

Trump has been frantically, and often incoherently, making the argument that COVID is on the wane, and the number of cases is dropping “all throughout the country.” Yet data compiled by his very own White House shows a 1,000 percent spike in rural areas of Tennessee and Kansas, and a 400 percent spike in cases in rural areas in Missouri, Nebraska, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

In Michigan, the right-wing gun-toting protesters who have been marching on the Capitol in Lansing and threatening the life of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer are catching COVID and spreading it in the rural communities where they live. These are the people Trump has been egging on for weeks, and that behavior is going to get a whole lot of people sick and dead before the Fourth of July, if the COVID pattern holds. This thing doesn’t care what you think. It wants your lungs and your life.

It is far past time to bring this Monster’s Ball to an end. Trump has been publicly dismissive of Anthony Fauci, and will likely have some twisted tweets to offer regarding the testimony of Rick Bright. Bright will be the blue plate special for Sean Hannity and the other propagandists on Fox News. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Perhaps, however, people will hear Bright’s words and heed them, and stay home, and stay alive. It is the best we can hope for in this strange and bitter age we live in. His testimony begins at 10:00 am Eastern time. Pull up a chair, and watch or listen as science puts this president in his place.