Two years before the coronavirus, the CDC has warned of an upcoming pandemic

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WASHINGTON – Two years ago, some of the country’s top public health officials gathered in an auditorium at Emory University in Atlanta to commemorate the 1918 flu pandemic – also known as the “Spanish flu” – who killed up to 40 million people. swept the globe.

Organized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the one-day conference on May 7, 2018 was supposed to exploit a calamity from the past for lessons in the present and warnings for the future. There were sessions titled “Nature Against Man” and “Innovations for Pandemic Countermeasures”. The implicit understanding was that, although the 1918 pandemic was a singular disaster, the conditions of the 21st century were ideal for another epidemic.

And as there are six billion more people on the planet today than in 1918, when the world population was only 1.8 billion, a pathogen that kills less effectively than the Spanish flu could nevertheless prove more deadly in absolute terms.

Long before the coronavirus emerged in Wuhan, China, and then spread quickly to almost every country on Earth, the 2018 conference provided evidence that epidemologists from the CDC and other institutions were aware that new pandemic was about to strike. They discussed disturbing developments. They pointed to obvious gaps in the nation’s defenses. They prepared for what they feared to come.

“Are we ready to respond to a pandemic? Asked Dr. Luciana Borio, who had headed the global health section since the dissolution of the National Security Council.

Dr. Borio answered his own question: “I’m afraid the answer is no. She was discussing flu but could just as easily have made reference to the coronavirus, given the similarities between the two infections.

Among the conference organizers was Dr. Daniel Jernigan, who heads the CDC’s flu division. He then organized a webinar entitled “100 years since 1918: are we ready for the next pandemic?” Seen today, this presentation appears to be a disturbing glimpse of what the whole world will face in 2020, with nearly a million people infected with coronavirus and more than 44,000 dead.

Dr. Daniel Jernigan. (Courtesy of CDC)
Dr. Daniel Jernigan. (Courtesy of CDC)

Aside from Jernigan’s appallingly prophetic presentation, the May 7 symposium repeatedly warned that federal and state authorities were not taking the response to a pandemic seriously enough.

Senior government officials gave the warnings a few steps from the country’s public health headquarters, raising questions about why the warning was ignored, given its ambiguity. “Our anxiety is increasing,” said Jernigan at the end of the conference, adding that “our leadership is causing a lot of concern.” (Neither the CDC nor Jernigan responded to requests for comment.)

Other public health officials present at the event expressed concern that even after the outbreaks of SARS (2003), swine flu (2009) and Ebola (2014), a cavalier attitude towards infectious disease has spread. “There is often a feeling from the policy makers we talk to in Washington – but also in other states – that something magical will happen when an emergency risk occurs, that we will just be in able to flip a switch and we “We will be able to respond as best we can,” said former CDC associate director John Auerbach, who now heads the Trust for America’s Health, a nonprofit organization focused on medical preparation.

Auerbach said that based on the organization’s latest report, it was clear that “we have some vulnerability” to a statewide pandemic. Among the concerns that confidence found, there were only eight states and the District of Columbia that had paid sick leave legislation, which means that millions of Americans had to continue working even after falling ill.

The continuing absence of a coherent federal policy on paid sick leave has been underscored by the coronavirus epidemic.

Patients line up for a COVID-19 test at the Elmhurst Hospital Center in New York, March 25, 2020. (John Minchillo / AP)
Patients line up for a COVID-19 test at the Elmhurst Hospital Center in New York, March 25, 2020. (John Minchillo / AP)

Auerbach described the conversations he had had at Capitol Hill on preparing for a pandemic and the dwindling funding for it. “You know, don’t worry,” they said. “If we do not finance this at the federal level, the governors and local officials will increase funding and compensate” for the federal cuts, he would have been assured.

Except that it was not true, said Auerbach, pointing to statistics showing that state and local governments were cutting funding for public health, potentially leaving the nation without the necessary defenses at any level of government.

Two years later, cities and states are asking Washington for help, and Americans are wondering how a nation that praised its health care system as a peer could have been so ill-prepared for a deadly plague.

President Trump has called the current coronavirus epidemic “an unforeseen enemy” that “came out of nowhere.” He’s right in the narrow sense that SARS-CoV-2, as the pathogen is officially known, is a new coronavirus, which means that its precise genomic sequence – the pattern of its proteins that beat the human body – n has not been interviewed before. . The existing armor in the form of vaccines therefore could not protect against aggression.

But the coronavirus was hardly unexpected. In fact, experts like Jernigan have been warning about a new pandemic for years.

The Jernigan webinar – which was not presented at the May 7 seminar but at an unspecified later date – was co-hosted by Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. She is a member of Trump’s coronavirus task force, but her role has been understated after making terrible warnings about the pandemic.

Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. (Samuel Corum / Getty Images)
Nancy Messonnier, Director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. (Samuel Corum / Getty Images)

Despite his hesitation about the severity of the coronavirus threat, Trump has now largely complied with Messonnier’s concerns about the coronavirus, which causes a disease called COVID-19. This disease has killed approximately 4,000 Americans.

The coronavirus directly attacks the lungs; the flu is an infection of the upper respiratory tract. But while viruses act differently, they spread from one body to another with similar speed, mainly through close contact with sick people, often by sneezing and coughing.

In recent weeks, interest in the 1918 flu has naturally increased, with people eager to understand what can be learned from this catastrophic epidemic.

Dr. Jernigan made these same warnings two years ago, as shown in the 34-slide presentation he delivered in 2018 on the 1918 pandemic.

This presentation has been easily accessible online for the past two years. It is not clear, however, whether someone from the White House saw the presentation. If they did, they would see a reality that has become too familiar to many Americans.

A slide warns that “human-made viruses” that originate in animals “can cause efficient and lasting transmission.” Although he spoke specifically of influenza viruses, the same is true of the coronavirus, which was also zoogenic, and is said to come from a wet market in the city of Wuhan in southeast China.

Jernigan’s presentation then includes a discussion of the spread of 1918, summarizing various well-known aspects of that era that exacerbated the pandemic: the First World War, crowded cities, and the lack of understanding of how viruses work.

The St. Louis Red Cross Motor Corps during the 1918 flu epidemic. (Universal History Archive / Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
The St. Louis Red Cross Motor Corps during the 1918 flu epidemic. (Universal History Archive / Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

The most relevant parts of Jernigan’s presentation come near the end, in a section titled “The Next Pandemic: Are We Ready?”

Jernigan came to a conclusion that has become common wisdom in recent weeks: the nation was ready but not prepared for a pandemic. It describes the factors that make a pandemic more likely, including “a more crowded and connected world”. Two years later, the ease of commercial aviation would cause the coronavirus to spread from East Asia around the world.

Another concern for Jernigan was that “the worlds of humans and animals are increasingly converging,” especially as population growth results in deforestation, which makes zoogenic transmission more likely. Animal markets in China are also being watched more and more, with some wanting to close them.

The presentation warned of a “potential disruption” of the food, energy and medical supply chains, as well as of the health system itself. These predictions appear to have been confirmed in the United States, with governors arguing for respirators and overcrowding in hospitals that led to the construction of a coronavirus treatment facility in the middle of Central Park. There have also been supermarket shopping, although no large-scale food shortages have been reported.

Even more specific warnings follow and seem particularly haunting given the heartbreaking images that have emerged from New York hospitals. “The need for reusable respirators,” writes Jernigan, apparently referring to N95 masks that have become a commodity for their role as prophylactics against airborne viral droplets. Jernigan also recommends “better access to the fan,” anticipating what would be a major problem for cities like New York and states like Washington.

A plastic-wrapped body is unloaded from a refrigerated truck and handled by medical workers at the Brooklyn Hospital Center in New York. (John Minchillo / AP)
A plastic-wrapped body is unloaded from a refrigerated truck and handled by medical workers at the Brooklyn Hospital Center in New York. (John Minchillo / AP)

“The healthcare system could be overwhelmed by a severe pandemic,” writes Jernigan, again predicting precisely what has become the sad reality of the coronavirus pandemic.

And while praising the advent of new vaccine technologies, he notes that “it takes too long to have vaccines available for a pandemic response.” Trump initially promised that vaccines and therapies would be readily available, while public health officials said the two were several months away.

Moving on to a more holistic view, Jernigan argued that “most countries have no solid pandemic plans and very little response effort.” This became clear when the coronavirus attacked countries like Italy and Iran, where health systems were overwhelmed and thousands of people died.

A concluding slide summarized Jernigan’s main argument: “Efforts to improve pandemic preparedness and response are underway, however, many gaps remain.”

The common finding at the May 7 pandemic symposium in 1918 was that it would be far more costly to ignore the lessons of the disaster than to institute the measures necessary to prevent a new epidemic.

“We know what to do” said former CDC director Dr Julie Gerberding. “We just have to do it.” “

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Click here for the latest news and updates on coronaviruses. Experts over the age of 60 and those who are immunocompromised remain the most at risk. If you have any questions, please refer to CDC and WHO resource guides.

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