To control the spread of coronavirus, China has locked down 60 million people in the city of Wuhan, winning high praise from the World Health Organization. Of course, that could never happen in the United States. So what could we do if hit by a comparable epidemic?
Not as much as we should, according to Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer and author Laurie Garrett.
Garrett, formerly with the Council on Foreign Relations, says the Trump administration “has intentionally rendered itself incapable” of responding effectively if a virus were spreading here.
Here’s the background: After West Africa was struck by Ebola, starting in 2013, President Barack Obama spent billions to establish a complex system to coordinate America’s hodgepodge of state and local public health agencies. It was centered in the Department of Health and Human Services and the National Security Agency.
But President Trump ordered those efforts dismantled and cut their budgets. “Only when the coronavirus started to look serious and a public emergency was declared did the administration hustle and try to re-create some elements of this command structure,” Garrett says.
It’s not that Obama’s response effort was fully developed. “It was kind of like a young child … a youthful effort. It was just growing. It needed to be coddled and critiqued and better developed, and it was constantly being tested. Hospitals all over the country were going through tests and emergency drills,” Garrett says.
She adds, “And now we’re having to recreate things in real time: racing against the clock.”