It was a single, salty sentence that first made Rick Bright realize a pandemic crisis was coming: “We’re in deep shit.”
The warning had come in an email in late January, weeks before the deaths began piling up and the American economy all but shut down. The head of a Texas mask manufacturer, Mark Bowen, was confirming what Bright had long known—that the nation had nowhere near the supply of N95 masks it would soon need. “From that moment,” Bright told a House committee today, “I knew that we were going to have a crisis with our 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 act.”
Bright was then the director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, a federal public-health agency involved in developing vaccines and treatments to protect the country from pandemics like the novel coronavirus. He’s now a congressional whistleblower, and the latest federal bureaucrat to cast the Trump administration in a withering light.
Those four words, punctuated by the profanity, also neatly summarize Bright’s stark message to Congress over the course of his four-hour testimony: The United States dropped the ball early in the pandemic, and it remains woefully unprepared for the painful months to come. “Lives were endangered,” he said, “and I believe lives were lost.” Without a significantly improved federal response, Bright told lawmakers, “2020 could be the darkest winter in modern history.”