US at heightened risk for a germ attack but also more ready
America hasn't seen the last of killer coronaviruses.
China's "bat woman," a Wuhan Institute of Virology investigator who handles bat viruses, is warning that the current pandemic is "just the tip of the iceberg." Friendly advice from a researcher? Perhaps, but America's enemies are watching.
They've seen the devastating impact of the coronavirus here, and "just how disruptive" a bioterrorism attack could be, warns Thomas G. Mahnken, a defense expert at Johns Hopkins. Who needs intercontinental missiles when a highly contagious, untreatable virus can paralyze the most powerful nation in the world?
America is a likely target for "biological agents designed to cause mischief on a massive scale," cautions George Mason University security expert Ellen Laipson.
The untold story is that the United States is significantly more prepared than a mere three months ago. In that short time, even while marshaling resources to equip hospitals and treat patients, the Trump administration has set in motion significant improvements in biodefense readiness, undoing two decades of neglect.
The same improvements will enable the U.S. to defend against a second wave of the coronavirus, or another naturally invading global virus, without another shutdown.
After all, the shutdown wasn't caused by the coronavirus. It was a frantic response to America's unpreparedness. The nation's Strategic National Stockpile of medical equipment was nearly empty. Our medical supply chain put us at the mercy of China for masks, antibiotics and other supplies. Hospitals lacked enough beds and ventilators to care for the infected. The shutdown bought time.
Here's where we stand:
Medical supply chain. When the pandemic began, China was the No. 1 supplier of imported surgical masks, protective goggles and generic antibiotics like tetracycline, and the No. 2 source of imported mechanical ventilators, hand sanitizer and other essential supplies. In early February, China played hardball, seizing all production, even by American companies there like 3M and General Motors. In April, China held up the products again with export regulations.
The lesson: No matter where a virus originates, the tools to fight it must be made in America.