Whistleblower Rick Bright Says He Tried To Warn The Trump Administration About Coronavirus In January

Dr. Richard Bright testifies during a House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health hearing
Pool / Getty Images

Rick Bright, the former director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), revealed in a 60 Minutes interview on Sunday that he tried to warn the Trump administration about the seriousness of novel coronavirus as early as the beginning of January. Bright claims he was fired for opposing the Trump administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

In the interview, Bright said that he knew the novel coronavirus had the potential to rise to the level of a pandemic at the beginning of January. He explained that as soon as he heard about a new virus that was spreading quickly and causing a significant number of deaths, he knew that the virus was different than a typical virus, like the flu.

Bright claimed that he tried to warn the Trump administration about how serious the virus was in early January, but his concerns were not taken seriously. Bright said that other scientists who worked closely with the government were also concerned, but that officials at the Department of Health and Human Services, including Trump appointee Alex Azar, didn’t seem overly concerned.

By late January, Bright said he was insisting that plans for testing, treatments, and vaccines needed to be made, but he said officials within the administration weren’t listening. He told 60 Minutes‘ Norah O’Donnell that he tried to point out that the development of testing kits, drug therapies, and potential vaccines would take a long time and the government should get started as soon as possible. But Bright said the Trump administration continued to be dismissive.

According to CBS News, Bright was trying to get the Trump administration to take novel coronavirus seriously a week before President Trump told supporters at an event, “We think we have it very well under control.”

Bright pointed out in the interview that in January and February, the U.S. was focused on keeping the virus out of the country instead of planning for an outbreak within the U.S. Bright told O’Donnell that the administration really believed they could prevent an outbreak in the U.S.

Bright made his opinion about this strategy clear.

“Containment doesn’t work. Containment does buy time. It could slow. It very well could slow the spread. But while you’re slowing the spread, you better be doing something in parallel to be prepared for when that virus breaks out.”

Bright also revealed to 60 Minutes that agencies within the government had completed training exercises for pandemic situations five months before novel coronavirus started to spread. So, there were scientists and officials within the government who were well-prepared to help the Trump administration handle a pandemic situation.

Bright said that the training exercise they completed actually predicted many of the issues that would later occur in the handling of the coronavirus pandemic, including issues with lack of personal protective equipment (PPE).

“They were lessons about shortages on critical supplies such as personal protective equipment, such as masks, N95 masks, gowns, goggles. And there were lessons about the need for funding,” Bright said. “We had drilled. We had practiced. We’ve been through Ebola, we’ve been through Zika, we’ve been through H1N1. This was not a new thing for us. We knew exactly what to do.”

According to Bright, he tried to warn the Trump administration about the dwindling supplies of PPE way back on January 25. He claims he was told that the administration would get in touch with manufacturers themselves and “take appropriate action when it’s needed.”

From there, Bright delved into the details that led up to his demotion and the filing of his whistleblower complaint, particularly his opposition to funding research into hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for coronavirus. Bright’s whistleblower complaint asserts that he was forced to put politics over public health and when he refused to do so, he was demoted.

President Donald Trump has fired back at Bright, calling him a “disgruntled employee” and claiming that he’d never heard of him. The Trump administration has faced criticism for allegedly not heeding the advice of medical experts within the government about the coronavirus pandemic.