News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Pandemic preparedness — past, present, future

“Getting back to more normal life” — a common sentiment these days. I’d like to offer a perspective on how we can do that. In 2005, the Bush administration developed a Pandemic Preparedness Plan (PPP) to address the Avian Flu. They transferred the PPP template on to the Obama administration, which modified and improved it in order to handle the Ebola crisis.

As a science manager in the Department of Interior, I was engaged in the Avian Flu response, and when I later moved to the Department of Agriculture, I was involved in the Ebola response. Because pandemic risks are global, and the potential for impacts are nationwide, both pandemics were dealt with at the federal level, and in a strategic, calm, and effective manner. But soon after Trump’s inauguration in 2017, the PPP program, staff, and budget were cut. To me this was like skydiving without a parachute.

What happened next was inevitable: Another pandemic, this time in freefall.

Why inevitable? Three main reasons: People and animals are moving around the globe more than ever; land use and land conditions are undergoing dramatic changes, and human populations are growing. This triple reality is a recipe for more pandemics; a fact that has been common knowledge among scientists and public health leaders for decades.

A future with more disease is so widely expected, that a team approach called “One Health” set goals to achieve best-case scenarios. These experts recognized that the health of people is closely connected to the health of both wild and domestic animals, and our shared global environment. A big area of concern is markets where people sell wild animals, which often carry viruses that humans would otherwise never be exposed to.

Why did the Trump administration allow the coronavirus pandemic threat to slip under their radar, and intentionally end the PPP program? Because Department of Homeland Security officials didn’t see a pandemic as “terrorism” and Office of Management and Budget officials didn’t respect science. Maybe Homeland Security is not the place to deal with pandemics, but pandemics certainly are “a thing” to “prepare” for.

Eliminating the PPP program left us with a president whose only tools were to try to bully or negotiate with a microbe. This has not worked out. The truth is, without effective leadership based in science, a microbe will win every time.

To be clear, “the Trump way” is the reason we are experiencing frustrations, inconveniences, and deaths that never should have happened. Trump’s handling of the pandemic has resulted in a nation with four percent of the world’s population having 20 percent of the infections; a politicization of masks; and Main Street economies suffering nationwide.

To this day, Trump has no plan going forward.

This past Sunday, his Chief of Staff admitted on national TV that the administration has no intention of trying to control the spiking outbreaks.

Instead, they are putting all their eggs in the vaccine basket.

There has never been a vaccine for a respiratory virus, but hopefully this will be the first.

But hoping for a vaccine is not a strategy.

It is merely playing defense.

We need to play offense.

I’m not a sociologist or psychologist, but there seems to be a mix of defiance, arrogance, ignorance, or perhaps insanity here.

Not only is it clear that Trump just doesn’t know what to do, he seems to not want to know.

He repeatedly defies what the experts are saying is the best way to get this virus under control.

We can’t put pandemics behind us with incurious and willfully ignorant people like Trump in the White House.

So, what now? Well, I heard Joe Biden is running! Here is a candidate with a solid plan. Joe Biden’s approach embraces scientific expertise — critically necessary in both reducing illness and death, as well as recovering the economy. He would implement simple things Trump could have done, starting with the two low-hanging fruits: testing and tracing.

Joe has a clear roadmap to address the crucial issue; please read it here:" target="_blank"> And for your family, our community, and our country, vote for Joe.


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