“We were warned in 2017, a week before inauguration day, when Lisa Monaco, Barack Obama’s outgoing homeland-security adviser, gathered with Donald 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 health-care systems—all with a vaccine many months from materializing. ‘The nightmare scenario for us, and frankly to any public-health expert that you would talk to, has always been a new strain of flu or a respiratory illness because of how much easier it is to spread’ relative to other pandemic diseases that aren’t airborne, Monaco told me…

“Monaco said that the Trump administration and its predecessors did not do enough to fund America’s public-health infrastructure, which in the coming weeks is at risk of being ‘overwhelmed by the onslaught’ of cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

“‘I’m not saying that having that structure in place means that the coronavirus wouldn’t have happened or wouldn’t have arrived here,’ Monaco clarified. But ‘back in December, when we first saw [the coronavirus emerge], who was asking, “Do we have sufficient tests?” Who was asking, “Do we have sufficient personal protective equipment if this gets here and gets here at scale?” Who was asking, “What is our public-health capacity, and let’s model this out. If this really spreads, how many ICU beds are we going to need?” Who’s developing that list of questions and getting them answered? That’s got to happen at the White House to really bring all of the government to bear…'”

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