The Premonition: A Pandemic Story (III)

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

Another members of Joe’s small public-health team, David Dynerman, also a mathematician, arrived with a different perspective. He’d been born in Poland and moved to the United States as a child. He had memories of Poland as a communist regime, and of the total breakdown of the government’s ability to be useful to its citizens. What he saw in the local U.S. public-health offices reminded hi8m of public services in Poland, but before the collapse of communism. “Poland now is not like this,” said David, after seeing the inside of a U.S. public-health office. “Poland now is more functional. Eastern Europeans are tough and kind of not shocke4d by a failed state. But these are the symptoms of a fai8led state.” (page 255)

The absence of federal leadership, combined with the fragmented nature of the American health care system, meant that tests for the virus either weren’t available or were being processed too slowly to be of any use. (page 242)

[The] medical -industrial complex…wasn’t designed for a crisis; if it was designed for anything, it was to maximize the profits of companies that enjoyed monopoly power. (page 244)

What he didn’t say, because he was too embarrassed to say it, was that inside the truck they’d discovered not medical swabs but Q-tips. So far as he could tell, there had never been any swabs in the Strategic National Stockpile. The pattern continued right through the pandemic: the Trump administration would claim with fanfare that supplies were on their way to the states and leave it to the career civil servants whose job was to interact with state officials to reap the humiliation when those supplies failed to arrive. It would happen again with ventilators, with the drug Remdesivir, and, finally, with vaccines. Among other consequences of the White House’s strategy was that it gutted the credibility of the career federal officials. (pages 251-2)

The expression “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” actually isn’t usually true for human beings. It is for bacteria, however. (page 257)

It was not possible for a vaccine maker, or a society, to adapt to an evolving virus without genomic information. And yet nearly a year into the pandemic, in February 2021, the number of genomes being seque3nced in the United States was trivial – less than a third of 1 percent of the virus in people who tested positive. (The UK was by then sequencing 10 perce4nt of its positives; Denmark had set a goal of sequencing all of them.) The United States was sequencing fewer of its genomes than any other industrialized country, and the only reason it was sequencing as many as it was is that a bunch of nonprofits had stepped in to do it, haphazardly, for free. (page 268)

The American institutions built to manage risk and respond to a virus had been engaged in a weird simulation of crisis response that did not involve actually trying to stop the virus. (page 274)

Companies that manufactured aspirin petitioned the White House. “The White House called and told us to cease and desist,” recalled [Bill] Foege. “Do a new study.” The aspirin makers had been able to force the CDC to scrap its findings and slow down science….After Foege resigned, the White House converted the position of CDC director from career civil servant to presidential appointee. (page 289)

Local health officers across the country paid with their jobs and more in their attempts to control a disease without the help of the Centers for Disease Control. Sara Cody, the health officer in Santa Clara County, had issued the country’s first stay-at-home order, after finding the country’s first domestic transmission of COVID – and now Sara Cody needed round-the-clock police protection. Nichole Quick, the health officer in Orange County, seeing the virus rampaging through her community, had issued a mask order only to have the CDC waffle about the need for masks. She’d been run out of her job and, finally, for fear of her safety, the state. (page 291)

From the point of view of American culture, the trouble with disease prevention was that there was no money in it. (page 299)

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