Perhaps we will rearrange our national priorities after this crisis.

No link, just a thought about where we are today and should be tomorrow.

There is little debate that we were, and probably still are, woefully unprepared for a serious pandemic. Whether one supports the administration’s efforts or criticizes them, they are the present results of a decade’s long policy of relegating the biggest threat to our national health and economy: Pandemics.

Even the belief that we “are doing the best we can” is really just an unvoiced lament that we should have been better prepared in the first place.

This goes back several administrations. We can argue about teams that may or may not have been more attuned to developments, but the reality is that they all were given less priority than many other policies or programs.

In the last decades we have built the strongest military and a robust economy with borrowed money. Some to fund endless, almost futile, wars, some to avoid a severe financial collapse then recover, and most recently to artificially boost an already healthy economy and expand our military even more.

Yet, we have not prepared for the biggest threat that we and the rest of the world can face. The warnings have been sounded over and over by people in the health business, members of various administrations and even small divisions in our vast military industrial complex.

Well, that train left the depot long ago. My hope is that this pandemic will be a wake up call. That we will start funding a biodefense organization with serious and forward thinking professionals. That labs for epidemiological will receive the respect, stature and, if warranted, funding that aircraft carriers get today. The we can stockpile equipment and storage capable supplies on a grand scale for loans to hospitals when needed. Even perhaps build “viral bases”, like military bases, where basic structures are built and can be quickly converted to regional health facilities for quarantine and treatment.

I believe the cost will be significant but a not nearly the expense of the trillions we continue to borrow to spend now. And, more significantly, the many trillions we are poised to borrow today.

In addition, this effort needs to be coordinated internationally. Nationalism does not impress a virus. When it spreads it makes little difference where it came from. We post military units in almost every nation in the world. Let’s do the same with sophisticated epidemic teams and labs.

This little opinion is not original. Bill Gates’ TED talks of 5 years ago discussed the same issues. I thought, however, that repeating this often enough in even the tiniest of venues might result in a few less missiles and more laboratories.

IMHO

24 thoughts on “Perhaps we will rearrange our national priorities after this crisis.

  1. This is not possible. We have a for profit health care system, and it is not profitable to have sufficient stockpiles of emergency supplies on hand. No company could justify to its stockholders vast stocks of even nonperishable goods like N-95 masks, let alone any test kits that would have an expiration date.

    Only countries that have healthcare systems willing to waste money can do that, i.e., countries that put health ahead of profits.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Sadly, you may be right, but until we see this as a species problem and react accordingly we’ll just be waiting for the bullet that we won’t be able to dodge in time.

      Liked by 3 people

    2. Perhaps I wasn’t clear. We stockpile bombs, planes, missiles for massive retaliatory wars that will probably not take place on such a scale.

      Private industry makes them, we as the government buy them and then they will be used in emergencies. Stockholders are still be happy.

      Same with labs, equipment, etc.

      It would be like a DOD except for biodefense.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. @Len

        We have some versions of such things that are just not financed enough, focused on enough or well coordinated.

        Perhaps this will serve as a wake-up call?

        I won’t be holding my breath….

        Liked by 2 people

  2. “we have not prepared for the biggest threat that we and the rest of the world can face.”

    Unquestionably true, the planet is constantly trying to kill us. Our defenses against infections are causing the causal agents to evolve to become more effective in invading and taking us out. Only a coordinated and on-going effort will give us a fighting chance to maintain some version of a stalemate.

    IMHO.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. I don’t disagree that for decades we have failed to take pandemics seriously enough, but why is that?

    When you’re up to your ass in alligators, it’s hard to remember that you came to drain the swamp. What is really important is pushed aside by what is urgent.

    We can’t be policemen to the world, pay for everyone’s college and health care, spend $10Trillion a year on futile gestures to control climate, and prepare for the worst case pathogen at the same time. We can’t tie up the courts in litigation over someone’s feelings getting hurt over what pronoun is used to call them to dinner, or what races are guaranteed each seat in Congress.

    We have to set some priorities and government is simply not geared to do that.

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    1. You have a point. I was thinking in terms of actually carving out maybe 100 billion or per year from bombs so that we can contract with private industry to creat a stockpile, do basic research, building enough beds in critical areas, but not necessarily opening them. Stuff that private industry can’t do because of no ROI.

      I disagree on universal access to healthcare and education. That doesn’t mean “all for free”, just access with support for the lower incomes. Skin in the game is critical.

      Also borrowing trillions for tax cuts is insane. It has yet to work. Even before this virus we were not seeing growth much above the previous 10 years, wages were still just at or slightly above inflation. The DOW went nuts and that was great for a minority. But we all know Wall Street is not Main Street. We had companies capitalized in the 10’s of billions that hadn’t even broken even.

      There are a lot of problems to be sure.

      To borrow and paraphrase an old Chinese proverb:

      When everyone one is healthy there are lots of problems. When there is a pandemic, there is only one problem.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. @tabor

      Since WE are the Government I’m hopeful the our survival could/will become a priority.

      Do you see the private sector taking the lead in funding and coordinating such efforts? Not trying to be contentious, but I just don’t see any entity other than the Federal Government (regardless of its inefficiency and ineptitude) taking the lead.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. No, the private sector isn’t really the entity either, I’m just pointing out that government is ill suited.

        Government might do it well IF it only did those things originally intended in the Constitution. as part of national defense. But with government doing SO MANY things there are too many competing interests.

        A government that has to make lunch and breakfast for children and control sea level by dictating how electricity is generated can’t focus on core functions like keeping us safe.

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        1. I disagree. If national defense is a core part of the Constitution, which it was along with a postal service, etc, then biodefense is part of that in the modern world.

          If such is more damaging to our country than any modern terror attack or invasion, which it is showing to be by a long shot, then that should be included as a core part of our government.

          Short of an all out nuclear war with Russia or China, there is no greater danger.

          School lunches and clean air is not such a big distraction from making useless fighter jets for a Trillion. It should not be from biodefense.

          Our military has been great at preparing for yesterday’s conventional war. Let’s wake up and prepare for modern wars against pandemics.

          If we feel obligated to be the policeman for the world in shooting conflicts, we can certainly act in a similar capacity in medicine.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. I wrote that preparing for a pandemic could fit under national defense, but the point is that we can’t do that AND all the other ‘nice to haves’ that AREN’T Constitutional functions that the government does now.

            Providing lunch and breakfast for children of irresponsible parents and meddling in the energy business are kinds of competition that leave no room for preparing for pandemics or asteroid strikes.

            Like

          2. Well that’s the Libertarian in you. Just a different way of looking at things. I guess I’m a bit more Scandinavian in my outlook even though I grew up here.

            I see a balance of governance and free market capitalism that can profit from the strength of both without curtailing each too much.

            Liked by 1 person

          3. I don’t know if it is Libertarian so much or just recognition of how government really works.

            Once you have a government that subsidizes the most efficient farmers in the world and feeds children for parents who won’t make the sacrifice to do it themselves, you have built in constituencies that see those programs to the exclusion of everything else.

            So, to get your $10 billion for pandemic preparation, you will have to give the farmers a like amount and expand the number of children who get the free lunches(making that constituency even larger) plus all the others who demand their piece of the action to vote for your program, and before you know it, your $10 billion program costs $200 billion.

            Government is just unable to prioritize once the log rolling begins.

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          4. You seem fixated on school meals for the poor.

            FYI it costs about $18 billion a year. Eligibility is $33k or less total family income for a family of four. Not nothing, but these are low income families, probably many with 2 minimum wage jobs and some homeless. Much better use for money than the 100’s of billions we can’t even account for in Afghanistan.

            But I digress. BTW, I was thinking of a biodefense division costing 100 billion a year. Much more useful allocation of resources against a real enemy that can wipe us out physically and economically in a season.

            Liked by 1 person

          5. OK, pick any other government program, the school lunch(and now breakfast) program was just the most blatantly unconstitutional program I could come up with. But no matter, the problem remains no matter what examples you choose.

            If you propose to spend money on X, no matter how worthy it might be, constituents for LMNOP will demand they get money too and will block you till you get it.

            Government,now that it has escaped its constitutional bounds, is incapable of prioritizing.

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        2. I tend to lean to the believe that our Government has tried to do too much for too many and would rather their focus be on core functions as well..

          Since we don’t require a permit to have children feeding them will not go away any time soon and probably must have State support and will leave “control sea level” alone….

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      1. True enough. But the cost of pandemic preparedness can still leave more than enough money, fortunately or unfortunately, to keep playing cop if that is what it takes to address this issue.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. RE: “There is little debate that we were, and probably still are, woefully unprepared for a serious pandemic.”

    You write a thoughtful essay, but I am struggling to understand, In what sense were we “woefully unprepared”?

    There was no shortage of academic or scientific research. Virtually all the pandemics known to history have been thoroughly studied. Similarly, medicine has known about and been investigating coronaviruses for decades, right down to their potential use as bioweapons.

    There was no shortage of institutional capacity to perform crisis management. We had major bureaucracies, universities and private sector agencies already in place and in possession of the organizational systems required to perform disaster response.

    Much has been made of equipment, supply and hospital bed shortages, but they are more perceived than real. That is to say, things look bad in the midst of a demand shock, but a little capacity for innovation goes a long way toward solving such problems once the material requirements are nailed down. And there was no shortage of the capacity for innovation in America: automakers building ventilators, cruise ships as hospital wards, mask makers ramping up production, etc.

    There were, in fact, no shortages of knowledge, skills, capabilities or resources to meet the emergent challenge.

    But maybe the complaint is that we should be so thoroughly prepared that a pandemic would never be more than inconvenient, meaning that we maintain a constant oversupply of equipment, consumables and hospital beds.

    That level of preparedness would certainly be nice, but I’d say we don’t really need it.

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    1. RE: “There are hospitals today that are out of simple face masks.”

      Can you name one? That’s a big part of my point. I see stories that some hospitals are in danger of running out of masks, but that’s very different from having run out already.

      RE: “We had some of that in about 50 countries or so, including China. I am not sure when it was cut back.”

      How do you know it was cut back? I have heard reports that CDC overseas programs steadily expanded up to the present. What is the evidence that a) global bio-threat surveillance has been insufficient, or b) more of it would have made a difference in the current crisis?

      I’m not trying to shoot down your post but, rather, to recommend a greater emphasis on glass-half-full reasoning. I think it is important to realize, in particular, that on-hand inventories of crucial supplies are not necessary when on-demand inventories can be readily produced.

      Like

  5. Two things.

    There are hospitals today that are out of simple face masks. Yes we are ramping up, but that kind of shortage affects other medical procedures as well as Coronavirus treatments. This is, of course, a simple illustration. There are a lot of other supplies lacking now, but will eventually be available or that’s the plan anyway.

    Urban areas are feeling the pinch now. Kansas comes later.

    We store oil in salt caverns for years. We have incredible amounts of bombs, etc sitting in depots. Yes, we can get more, but when we need them fast, we have them. With many of the basics in storage, the expense is a one time arrangement with private industry, then some maintenance monies to keep them from damage.

    Secondly, part of the biodefense needs to be a presence in countries around the world. Epidemiologist “boots on the ground”. With funding to help the Third World areas where some of these disease originate. We had some of that in about 50 countries or so, including China. I am not sure when it was cut back.

    The speed with which this virus spreads is pretty good evidence that converting plants to make supplies is just not reliable enough in the short term. Good idea, but we need to have a cushion until such things can be done.

    This pandemic is going to cost us trillions just to ride out. Then trillions more to rebuild the economy. Money spent for even over-preparing is peanuts.

    IMHO

    Liked by 1 person

    1. RE: “There are hospitals today that are out of simple face masks.”

      Can you name one? That’s a big part of my point. I see stories that some hospitals are in danger of running out of masks, but that issue is being addressed in many ways.

      RE: “We had some of that in about 50 countries or so, including China. I am not sure when it was cut back.”

      How do you know it was cut back? I have heard reports that CDC overseas programs steadily expanded up to the present. What is the evidence that a) global bio-threat surveillance has been insufficient, or b) more of it would have made a difference in the current crisis?

      I’m not trying to shoot down your post but, rather, to recommend a greater emphasis on glass-half-full reasoning. I think it is important to realize, in particular, that on-hand inventories of crucial supplies are not necessary when on-demand inventories can be readily produced.

      Like

      1. About two days ago there was a report of a hospital in NYC that had no masks for surgery. I think Cuomo reported that NY as of today had procured 2 million n95 masks from sources overseas. So the problem was alleviated. At least for now.

        As a footnote, I don’t think people not from a major urban concentration like NYC can appreciate the scope of the challenge. Cuomo has a checkered political history as do most NY governors and NYC mayors. Tough guys in tough neighborhoods. But I am super impressed by his handling and communicating this crisis in the hardest hit state and city in the country. Tough and very empathetic at the same time.

        I am optimistic that if we can flatten the curve and if supplies do kick up we can handle this. Particularly here more than the large urban areas.

        I am a Boy Scout by nature. Be Prepared. And while I am at it, I am also a belt and suspenders guy. Big risks need to have a big payoff. There is no payoff to ignoring pandemics in a modern, globally fluid world. Just huge risks.

        It may be that this will peter out, but the financial damage is already enormous. To me that means we were not protected, rehearsed and stable enough to fight off a novel virus.

        I say again that the costs of being over prepared is peanuts. Also, if we have had the resources to be the cop of the world in the past, we can certainly afford to be a chief medical officer as well…or better yet, instead.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. To address your question about cutbacks in international presence, I don’t keep copious notes. There was an interview I caught part of that mentioned we were in China with a few folks and an office. Whether it ended during the last administration or this one was unclear. But I recall being a bit surprised that it was China.

        What is interesting to note, however, is that with global warming, no matter why it is occurring, the migration of tropical diseases is an issue. Some we know about and others I am sure we will learn about. Medical and scientific boots on the ground with immediate funding and assistance at the sources could be a big plus.

        Liked by 1 person

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