May 21, 2020

Is Rick Bright’s apocalyptic warning right?

Is Rick Bright's apocalyptic warning right? Opinion by Peter Bergen, CNN National Security Analyst "Peter Bergen is CNN's national security analyst, a vice president at New America and a professor of practice at Arizona State University. He is the editor of the Coronavirus Daily Brief and author of the new book "Trump and His Generals: The Cost of Chaos." The opinions expressed here are his own. Read more opinion at CNN." (CNN)In prepared testimony for his appearance before the US House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Health on Thursday, Rick Bright said he was removed as the director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority because he was raising the alarm about the coronavirus early this year and also resisting pressure from the Trump administration to promote an "unproven drug, hydroxychloroquine, to the American people without transparent information on the potential health risks." Leaving aside the question of why exactly Bright was removed from his post at BARDA, he has certainly proven to be right about the antimalarial drug that President Donald Trump consistently promoted as a "game changer" and that also was touted by Fox News hosts and close Trump allies such as Rudy Giuliani. Rick Bright will warn Congress of 'darkest winter in modern history' without ramped up coronavirus response Rick Bright will warn Congress of 'darkest winter in modern history' without ramped up coronavirus response On Monday, a study of more than 1,400 COVID-19 patients in New York was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the largest such examination to date, which found that hydroxychloroquine gave no benefits to COVID-19 patients and instead significantly increased their risk of cardiac arrest. Monday's JAMA study followed a New England Journal of Medicine study that was published last week that concluded hydroxychloroquine neither helped nor harmed 1,376 patients who were admitted to New York-Presbyterian Columbia University Medical Center between March 7 to April 8. As a result of these studies, Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert said, "The nail has virtually been put in the coffin of hydroxychloroquine." In the advance version of his testimony for Thursday, Bright also made some dire predictions about what may lie ahead for the United States, testifying that, "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 ...Without clear planning and implementation of the steps that I and other experts have outlined, 2020 will be darkest winter in modern history." That's a very gloomy prediction as it seems to suggest that more Americans could die of Covid-19 than the 675,000 who died during the 1918 flu pandemic. Is Bright right? Maybe. A leading infectious disease expert Michael Osterholm at the University of Minnesota estimates that there could be as many as 800,000 Covid-19 deaths in the United States over the next 18 months. There are many reasons for believing that such a large death toll is a strong possibility, including the likelihood that the US will experience a "second wave" of Covid later in the year. Testing for the coronavirus in the US is also still far from where it should be. So far there have been almost 10 million tests conducted in the States, but that's only for around 3% of the population. A study from Harvard co-authored by New America CEO, my colleague Anne-Marie Slaughter, suggests we need 20 million tests a day by mid-summer to really safely open up the United States and re-mobilize the American economy. Meanwhile, the US has an anemic contact tracing effort unlike South Korea, which has had only 260 deaths. The US has a population more than six times larger than South Korea so, adjusted for population size, if the United States had a plan in place like South Korea's we might have on the order of around 1,700 Covid-19 deaths. Instead, the US has had over 84,000 deaths, the most in the world. Also, most American states that are now opening up are not adhering to federal guidelines about when that is sensible to do. And, so far, there is no effective treatment for Covid-19 except for remdesivir, which shortened recovery times by four days for seriously ill patients in a clinical trial compared to those who received a placebo, but the drug is in short supply. Meanwhile, accurate antibody tests are still a ways off and developing a widely available vaccine could take years. Bright is making some dire predictions, but in his prepared testimony he says he was right when he warned earlier this year that the coronavirus was likely to be a big problem and unless we have a coherent national response he may be right again about the winter of discontent that we may enter at the end of this year.