Whistleblower alleges Trump administration ignored dire Covid-19 warnings

Whistleblower alleges Trump administration ignored dire Covid-19 warnings

The Daily Beast reports:

The Trump administration was warned in late January that it had a critical shortage of surgical masks needed to combat coronavirus and that it needed to prioritize the development of a vaccine. But it failed to take action, a top administration health official alleges in a whistleblower complaint formally filed on Tuesday.

The complaint from Dr. Rick Bright, who led the government’s efforts to find a vaccine for the coronavirus before being reassigned to a position at the National Institutes of Health, details what he describes as a staggering degree of inaction from administration officials bracing for a historic pandemic. Bright, who served as a program leader within the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), says he raised alarms about supply chain shortages early on during the coronavirus’ spread. While certain officials inside the administration shared his fears—most notably, President Donald Trump’s trade adviser Peter Navarro—others did not.

Eventually, Bright says, he was excluded from a meeting on COVID, even though the agenda for the meeting listed him as a participant. He claims he was ultimately fired for pushing back and speaking out against the administration’s attempts to push an unproven COVID therapy drug.

Chief among his antagonists, Bright identifies Dr. Robert Kadlec, the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) at the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS). Kadlec, Bright alleges, declined to coordinate senior level meetings in mid January as the virus was spreading across China, suggesting that he was “[n]ot sure if that is a time sensitive urgency.”

HHS Secretary Alex Azar, Bright alleges, was similarly slow to act, convinced that the U.S. could keep the virus from spreading domestically. At one point, Bright says, a top government official accused him of creating a “shitstorm” by asking for more funds for BARDA in front of Azar.

One of Bright’s biggest frustrations was saved for procurement of masks, which he said he recognized early on would be a critical need in the coronavirus pandemic. Bright said that on January 21, 2020, Mike Bowen, co-owner and Executive Vice President of domestic surgical mask producer Prestige Ameritech, emailed him that the Department of Homeland Security had contacted him about procuring masks. Bright raised Bowen’s concerns internally about getting production of N95 masks up and going. But for a week nothing happened. Eventually, Bowen emailed again.

“I think we’re in deep shit,” he wrote.

Bright’s attempts to sound the alarm about mask shortages persisted from there. In a meeting with other health officials on February 7, he insisted that the federal government needed to place orders to ramp up production of N95 masks in order to protect healthcare workers and first responders. But an HHS supply chain team pushed back, saying there was “no indication of a supply chain shortage or of issues with masks,” according to the complaint. [Continue reading…]

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