Sarbanes Highlights the Trump Administration’s Botched Response to COVID-19 Pandemic [Video]
WASHINGTON, D.C. – At a House Subcommittee on Health hearing today, Congressman John Sarbanes (D-Md.) slammed the Trump Administration for failing to adequately prepare for the COVID-19 pandemic and ignoring the warnings of scientists and public health experts, like Dr. Rick Bright, a former senior official at U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), who was abruptly ousted from his position after repeatedly raising concerns about the Administration’s anemic response to the virus.
“The United States government deploys millions of dedicated public servants working together to achieve our shared goals as a nation, to promote effective government and to protect the public interest – in this instance, to protect the public health,” said Congressman Sarbanes. “As a scientist and public health official, that was your charge and you took it seriously. Unfortunately, the record shows that your superiors at HHS – and potentially beyond – instead of valuing your expertise and experience, squandered it in ways that, in this moment, in the face of this crisis, amount to gross negligence. They ignored your science-based pleas to pursue critical strategies, for example, your repeated calls to obtain virus samples from China and to find supplies, masks, respirators, swabs. They dismissed your science-based warnings about pursuing unproven strategies. They dismissed your concern, for example, about the stampeding towards hydroxychloroquine…. And they sent you on errant missions to find treatments with little therapeutic value, all for the sake of satisfying political cronies.”
Sarbanes asked: “I am sure there are specific conversations, emails, moments in time that you remember, like they happened yesterday – the inflection points where if the response to your warnings had been heeded, things would might have been different. And I’m sure they haunt you and keep you up at night. From January of this year, tell me about just one specific moment when you had that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach, because you were not seeing the response that you knew needed to happen.”
Dr. Bright answered: “Congressman, I’ll never forget the emails I received from Mike Bowen indicating that … our mask supply, our N-95 respirator supply was completely decimated. And he said, ‘We are in deep shit – the world is – and we need to act.’ And I pushed that forward to the highest levels I could in HHS and got no response. From that moment, I knew that we were going to have a crisis for health care workers, because we were not taking action. We were already behind the ball. That was our last window of opportunity to turn on that production, to save the lives of those health care workers – and we didn’t do that.”
Sarbanes continued: “Listening to your testimony gives me chills because it all adds all up to one inescapable conclusion, it didn’t have to be this way. There was another path. Things could’ve gone differently. The federal response to the pandemic could have been much more effective…. Dr. Bright, when the counsel that you and others offer is cast aside, it means that science and reason are also being cast aside. That’s a dangerous impulse. It’s an attitude that deprives our country, in this critical moment, of any real chance of getting ahead of this pandemic. But hopefully we can learn from this. There’s still time to put science and reason back into the national strategy for fighting COVID-19…. The federal response has got to get smarter, it has to put science ahead of politics and cronyism and wishful thinking…. So tell us, what can we do now to learn from the mistakes of January and February and March, and make sure that we navigate and lead our country through this public health crisis.”
Dr. Bright responded: “We need to unleash the voices of the scientists in our public health system in the United States so they can be heard. And their guidance needs to be listened to and we need to be able to convey that information to the American public, so they have the truth about the real risk and dire consequences of this virus and they have the truth about the consequences of their actions if they don’t follow those guidances. And we don’t have a single point of leadership right now for this response and we don’t have a master plan for this response. So those two things are absolutely critical. I would also encourage Congress to ensure there is oversight in this response. Large sums of funding have become available to help us, the scientists and others, respond to this outbreak. And without proper oversight of those dollars, I’m concerned that they could be misdirected and lost and not put to the right fight. So I would encourage Congress to continue and increase their oversight in how those funds are being spent and making sure they’re prioritized and used appropriately to end this pandemic.”
See below for the full exchange.