Updated: Apr 19, 2020
Countries around the world, including the USA, seem captivated by their health care organizations. My question is simple: First, how would you grade those organizations in regard to their preparation for the onset of COVID 19, and second, how would you grade them in their response to the arrival of COVID 19 in their country?
I know nothing about the expectations for or the resources provided to those organizations in other countries, but my assessment of the two elements of that question, in the USA, is far from flattering. It seems to me the CDC and all other public health organizations in our country had every opportunity to thoughtfully and thoroughly prepare for a scenario like this coronavirus, or even worse. The world has been forced to deal with several epidemics in recent years, including HIV, H1N1, MERS, and SARS. What was learned, and how did that knowledge influence the types of resources put in place to immediately meet the needs of our people, and how did that knowledge help our government agencies develop models to best deploy those resources and determine public policy upon arrival of the illness?
In general, I would say the USA national health organizations were caught completely with their pants down with the arrival of the coronavirus. That is in spite of the fact that the virus was alive and spreading in China since some time in November, or even earlier. There was certainly considerable knowledge about the virus in early January. And what of the preparation that was put in place after the previous threats to public health, and before COVID 19 existed? We have spent the last few weeks scrambling for basic medical equipment like respirators and protective gear for health care workers. Is it unreasonable to think organizations like the CDC would use a portion of their huge yearly budgets to purchase and stockpile those basic materials typically needed for wide-spread threats to public health? So I say again, my conclusion is that the national health organizations in the USA were extremely unprepared, perhaps you could say incompetent, for the challenges our country has faced in recent weeks.
Next, how accurate has the information our public health organizations presented to the American people? That seems to me an epic failure on at least as high a level as the matter discussed above. The initial claims that this coronavirus would infect 40% to 70% of the earth’s population, with a mortality rate of 1% to 2% (that seems the most consistent model presented), has been a hopelessly inaccurate prediction from the beginning, calling for between 1,300,000 and 4,500,000 deaths in the USA alone. I say that because the spread and mortality rates were vastly less severe than those predictions in every situation, from China and South Korea to the cruise ships that had coronavirus cases on board. As the virus has attacked the people in countries all over the world the number of cases and deaths, while absolutely significant and calling for reasonable measures to contain the illness, have not in any way approached the number of cases or deaths predicted. The difference between the early models and reality is, in fact, staggeringly immense. So, my conclusion is that the public health entities involved in the predictions about the extent of the world-wide spread of this illness were fantastically wrong, perhaps incompetent, in this aspect of their work as well.
My next question follows the above conclusions. Why would government agencies that have proven incompetent in preparation for and prediction about a global contagion now be entrusted with unlimited power in the management of the global contagion? Perhaps it is well past time to bring other voices and other views into the decision making process. Perhaps scientists not associated with government agencies, scientists who are not primarily bureaucrats, should be consulted and their views seriously considered. It seems likely to me that independent thinking specialists who do not have the burden of government involvement will provide greatly improved guidance as our country continues to chart its path through these troubled waters.
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