Media Outlets Examine Efforts Over Obama, Trump Administrations To Prepare For, Warn Of Potential Infectious Disease Outbreaks

AP: Medical intelligence sleuths tracked, warned of new virus
“In late February when President Donald Trump was urging Americans not to panic over the novel coronavirus, alarms were sounding at a little-known intelligence unit situated on a U.S. Army base an hour’s drive north of Washington. … On Feb. 25, the medical intelligence unit raised its warning that the coronavirus would become a pandemic within 30 days from WATCHCON 2 — a probable crisis — to WATCHCON 1 — an imminent one, according to a U.S. official. That was 15 days before the World Health Organization declared the rapidly spreading coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic. At the time of the warning, few coronavirus infections had been reported in the United States. That same day, Trump, who was in New Delhi, India, tweeted: ‘The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA.’ Soon, however, the coronavirus spread across the world, sickening more than 2 million people with the disease COVID-19 and killing more than 26,000 people in the United States…” (Riechmann, 4/16).

Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Obama warned of pandemic threat in 2014, but Republicans blocked funding
“Former President Barack Obama warned the nation in 2014 about the potential for a coming pandemic and pushed for billions in emergency funding that was ultimately blocked by Republicans in Congress. In a speech on December 2 that year in Bethesda, Maryland, Obama urged Congress to set aside partisan differences and pass funding to combat pandemics in the future. … Obama’s push for a national framework with installations ready to swoop in and curtail an outbreak like the coronavirus met fierce resistance, and funding for pandemics was forced to stay at the levels approved in 2010 through the end of Obama’s final term in office…” (Lee, 4/15).

MIT Technology Review: The lessons we didn’t learn from Ebola
“An interview with Christopher Kirchhoff, who wrote a post-mortem of the U.S. Ebola response for the National Security Council. … Do you think the existence of an office like that would have made a substantial difference to the prevalence of the novel coronavirus in the U.S. today? ‘Yes. The office was dissolved in May 2018. But Ebola taught us that there’s an incredible penalty for inaction, because epidemics grow exponentially: every day you delay responding, you end up facing a steeper exponential curve that makes the situation quickly transition from what would have been manageable to something that’s unmanageable. This is where we are today. You have to imagine that the presence of an office well staffed with professionals in emerging infectious diseases would have been able to help the U.S. government be more nimble in those crucial early days, when more capabilities could have been brought online and could have been ready to help us get ahead of the curve’…” (Kakaes, 4/15).

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