The Premonition: A Pandemic Story (II)

Labeled a non-fiction thriller that pitted a group of medical visionaries against our government.

“It’s often individuals who pick up the baton, and they’re not even doing it as part of their day job description.” (page 157) Joe DeRisi

Coronavirus could be deadly to animals, but in people they’d always manifested themselves as the common cold. The World Health Organization would eventually give the disease caused by this coronavirus its name: severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS. (page 138)

He also thought that people who looked at stuff without any preconception of what they might find were the ones who saw the things that no one had seen before. (page 146)

There were several points to this story. One was how screwed up the incentives were inside the medical-industrial complex. It was possible to spend $1,000,100 on drugs to prevent you from dying without anyone’s having any idea if any of them would work; at the same time, inside of a few weeks but too late to save you, some ill-paid postdoc was able to find a cheap cure. (page 156)

That was Joe’s big takeaway from the story: what he called the last mile problem in medical science. Corporations were interested only in stuff that made money. Academics were interested in anything worthy of publication, but once they had their paper done, they tended to lose interest. The government was meant to fill in the blanks but the United States government by now mystified Joe…. (page 157)

He hated in particular the way some people were able to use their own inefficiency to create a seeming need for more funding; and other people, people with a gift for making do with less, were, as a result, given even less. (page 162)

But then, on April 9, 2018, Trump hired John Bolton as his national security adviser, and the next day, Bolton fired Tom Bossert, and demoted or fired everyone on the biological threat team. From that moment on, the Trump White House lived by the tacit rule last observed by the Reagan administration: the only serious threat to the American way of life came from other nation-states. (page 163)

Never mind that every single one of the fifty-seven Americans in quarantine wanted to be tested: the CDC forbade it. And Lawler never understood the real reason for the CDC’s objections. Did they want to avoid finding cases to avoid displeasing Donald Trump? Were they concerned that, if they tested people without symptoms and they found the virus, they’d make a mockery of their current requirement that only people with symptoms be tested? Were they embarrassed or concerned that someone other than the CDC was doing the testing? (page 176)

On January 31, the United States government finally acted, sort of. It restricted travel by foreigners into the country and required any Americans returning from China to quarantine for fourteen days. “We pretty much shut it down from coming in from China,” said President Rump. By then, thought Carter [Mecher], the virus was likely already so widespread inside the United States that the focus on foreign travelers was a pointless distraction. “It’s a waster of time,” he wrote after Trump’s announcement. “You’re protecting your front door from intruders and they’re taking stuff out the back door.” (page 179)

Whatever was happening in the White House was happening without the benefit of the people Bossert felt qualified to advise the president. “The chains had been broker,” he said. “None of the people who had been involved in the last fifteen years of thinking about pandemics were in the conversation. They were deep state.” (page 182)

By then [Charity Dean] knew that the Trump administration had been flying migrants in transport planes from Texas to California, so that they might create more stress on the system she had built and, at the same time, take advantage of it. (page 190)

Plus, no one inside the 4,500-person operation that was the California Department of Public Health knew what anyone else did. (page 191)

The new governor, Gavin Newsom, broke with the tradition of naming a former local California health officer to run the state when he instead brought in Sonia Angell, a former CDC employee in her agency’s Noncommunicable Disease Unit. Angell had experience in neither California nor communicable disease. Her most recent job had been working on heart disease in New York City’s health department. Only later, in August 2020, at the press conference where he announced Angell’s abrupt resignation – without going into why she was resigning so abruptly – would Newsom explain why, in part, she’d been recruited by his administration: her work in righting racial injustice in health care. Charity was later told that she herself had never been a serious candidate. “It was an optics problem,” says a senior official in the Department of Health and Human Services. “Charity was too young, too blond, too Barbie. They wanted a person of color.” Sonia Angell identified as Latina. (page 192)

Everyone has a story they tell themselves about themselves. Even if they don’t explicitly acknowledge it, their minds are at work retelling or editing or updating a narrative that explains or excuses why they have spent their time on earth as they have. (page 199)

“They didn’t want to accept it,” she said. “Anyone at the federal level is so removed from the shitstorm that is the CDC that they have no clue. They wanted to believe that the CDC, or the state, could just make local health officers do what they wanted to do. You know why I think they didn’t want to accept it? It’s too terrifying. Too chaotic. Too WTF. Too much of a shake to federal officials’ foundation to digest the truth that local nobodies are really in charge.” (page 205)

There was no system of public health in the United States, just a patchwork of state and local health officers, beholden to a greater or lesser degree to local elected officials. ?Three thousand five hundred separate entities that had been starved of resources for the past forty years. (page 206)

She knew that the weaker-spined local health officers around the country would defer to the CDC, as it got them off the hook for making their own hard decisions, but the better local health officers would not. (page 207)

He’d now awakened to the possibility that at least one of his mental models badly distorted reality: his model of American government. People who might be led to prepare for what was coming were being led not to. (page 218)

The practical effect was that a relative handful of people played an outsized role in the spread of the disease. Most people gave it to no one; a handful gave it to twenty other people. (page 222)

[Charity Dean] never heard from Andy Slavitt again.* (footnote: Slavitt renamed the plan “Victory over COVID-19” and presented it to Kushner as his own.) (page 237)

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: