America Knew a Pandemic Was Coming
Long before COVID-19, the nation chose to play risk
We were warned in 2019 of the grave hazards of a new influenza pandemic by the U.S. intelligence community in its annual “worldwide threat assessment.” They had also cautioned us in 2018. And in 2017. And in 2016. And in 2015. And in 2014. And in 2013, when intelligence officials pleaded, “This is not a hypothetical threat. History is replete with examples of pathogens sweeping populations that lack immunity, causing political and economic upheaval.” (The 2020 worldwide threat assessment, which reportedly yet again flagged America’s vulnerability to a flu pandemic, has been postponed without explanation.)
When the National Commission on the COVID-19 response materializes, it will differ from the 9/11 Commission in that it will conclude that “the system was blinking red” not just in the inner sanctum of the U.S. intelligence community but out in the open, as well. For years. Within government and outside government. And that, despite all that, the U.S. government was not sufficiently prepared when the boogeyman, in this case the virus SARS-CoV-2, finally came calling. President Donald Trump has referred to the coronavirus outbreak as “an unforeseen problem,” as “something that nobody expected,” and as a crisis that “came out of nowhere.” It is demonstrably none of the above.
We were warned in 2017, a week before inauguration day, when Lisa Monaco, President Barack Obama’s outgoing homeland-security adviser, gathered with Trump’s incoming national-security officials and conducted an exercise modeled on the administration’s experiences with outbreaks of swine flu, Ebola and Zika. The simulation explored how the U.S. government should respond to a flu pandemic that halts international travel, upends global supply chains, tanks the stock market and burdens healthcare systems—all with a vaccine many months from materializing.
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