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Top health official says he was ousted for challenging use of drug Trump promoted and a U-turn on Georgia

"To combat this deadly virus, science — not politics or cronyism — has to lead the way," said official who was says he was ousted for questioning drug.
Image: CDC Director RObert Redfield
"Next fall and winter, we are going to have two viruses circulating, and we're going to have to distinguish between which is flu and which is the coronavirus," CDC Director Robert Redfield said during the White House daily briefing on Wednesday. He said that means it's going to be "more difficult" than the current situation "because we have to distinguish between the two."Mandel Ngan / AFP - Getty Images

Good morning, NBC News readers.

A top health official involved in developing a coronavirus vaccine says he was pushed out of his job for questioning a drug touted by President Donald Trump, as the debate over when it's safe to reopen the U.S. economy continues to rage.

Here's what we're watching this Thursday morning.

Top health official says he was ousted for pushing back on Trump's 'game changer' drug

A top official at the Department of Health and Human Services says he was ousted from his job this week for questioning the use of hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malaria drug President Trump has promoted as a coronavirus treatment.

Dr. Rick Bright was a leader at the federal agency involved in developing a coronavirus vaccine as the deputy assistant secretary of health and human services for preparedness and response and director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, or BARDA, until earlier this week when he says he was suddenly "involuntarily transferred."

"Specifically, and contrary to misguided directives, I limited the broad use of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, promoted by the Administration as a panacea, but which clearly lack scientific merit. While I am prepared to look at all options and to think 'outside the box' for effective treatments, I rightly resisted efforts to provide an unproven drug on demand to the American public," Bright said in the statement, which was first reported by The New York Times.

Trump had repeatedly touted the drug as a potential "game changer" in treating coronavirus patients.

A preliminary nationwide study, however, found that the drug was ineffective in treating the virus and that there were more deaths among those given hydroxychloroquine compared to those given standard care.

And a panel of experts convened by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases recommended that doctors not use a combination of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin to treat COVID-19 patients because of potential severe health risks. Trump had urged that they be taken together.

"I am speaking out because to combat this deadly virus, science — not politics or cronyism — has to lead the way," Bright said in his statement on Wednesday.

Here are some other developments:

  • Trump reversed course and said it's "too soon" for Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp to reopen some businesses like barber shops and nail salons in his state as soon as Friday.
  • The president also signed an executive order limiting immigration to the U.S. for the next 60 days on Wednesday.
  • Check out our live blog for the latest updates.
  • The U.S. death toll from COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, is more than 46,000, according to NBC News' tally.
  • See maps of where the virus has spread in the U.S. and worldwide.

Trump puts CDC director on the spot to explain how he was 'misquoted'

The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was forced to do verbal gymnastics from the White House podium during the daily coronavirus task force briefing on Wednesday.

The president asked Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the CDC, to explain how he was "misquoted" in a recent Washington Post interview when he said next winter might be "more difficult" than the past two months.

Redfield tried to explain differences among "more difficult," "worse" and "more devastating," the latter of which was how his remarks were paraphrased in a Washington Post headline, before saying he was "accurately quoted" in the publication. (Video)

In the Post interview, Redfield warned that a second wave of COVID-19 could prove tougher than the current iteration because it may line up with the start of flu season.

"There's a possibility that the assault of the virus on our nation next winter will actually be even more difficult than the one we just went through," he said. "We're going to have the flu epidemic and the coronavirus epidemic at the same time," he added.

Trump followed up, proclaiming, "We may not even have corona coming back, just so you understand."

The incident comes state governments and their federal counterparts grapple with a timeline to reopen sectors of the economy while avoiding significant further spread of COVID-19.

"We will have coronavirus in the fall. I am convinced of that," Dr. Anthony Fauci said Wednesday.

'A race against time': Results expected soon on experimental coronavirus drug

The results of a highly anticipated study on an experimental coronavirus treatment for the sickest patients are expected any day.

Physicians leading the clinical trial for the drug, called remdesivir, say the fast-moving pandemic has compelled them to work with haste, all without compromising the scientific rigor necessary to prove whether the drug really works.

"We are in a race against time," Dr. Andre Kalil, a principal investigator for the trial at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, told NBC News. "We're doing everything we can 24/7 to make this happen."

Gut-wrenching decisions and slashed sales: America's craft breweries are in trouble

Closed bars and taprooms have dried up sales for thousands of brewing companies even as supermarket sales soar.

"We had to change our entire operations overnight," said John Dantzler, co-founder of the Torch & Crown Brewing Company in Manhattan.

The company pivoted to online sales and delivery in an effort to stay afloat, ramping up production of canned beers, repurposing salespeople as delivery drivers and promising same-day delivery across a swath of the city.

But the company, and thousands of other craft brewers around the country, are still in a desperate struggle for survival.

They are one part of the grim economic picture. State and local governments are warning of a financial doomsday as they face layoffs, service cuts and the delay of long-planned projects.

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Quote of the day

"Science, in service to the health and safety of the American people, must always trump politics."

-- Dr. Rick Bright, the former top health official who says he was removed from his role for questioning the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine.

We're all in this together

You have to give people credit for trying different ways to pitch in on the fight against the spread of coronavirus.

Mother Superior Rebecca Frank has adapted a farm tractor to spread disinfectant in order to fumigate an area of Lima, Peru.

"It's a farm vehicle for agriculture, not for fumigating for coronavirus," she says. "But it can be adapted for disinfecting streets, that's not a problem."

At least she's doing her part. So far, according to local media, the district has not yet reported any coronavirus cases.

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Be safe and stay healthy, Petra Cahill