America will need a medical and political pandemic postmortem
When COVID-19 emerged in China at the end of last year -- then spread to the United States in January -- were there political leaders or public health officials who clearly understood what the virus was about to do to this country and how to most effectively counter it?
On Jan. 17, for example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention held its first briefing on COVID-19. That same day, it had started screening people for symptoms if they flew in from Wuhan, China, and landed in San Francisco, Los Angeles or New York.
"Based on the information that CDC has today, we believe the current risk from this virus to the general public is low," Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said at the beginning of that briefing.
"For a family sitting around the dinner table tonight this is not something that they generally need to worry about," she said.
But the doctor hedged her bet.
"In closing, I do want to remind you that we're still in the early days of this investigation," she said.
"The situation could indeed change quickly," she said.
Four days later, on Jan. 21, the CDC held another briefing. Here it announced the first confirmed COVID-19 case in the United States -- in a person who had recently returned from Wuhan.
"The confirmation that human-to-human spread with this virus is occurring in Asia certainly raises our level of concern about this virus, but we continue to believe the risk of this novel coronavirus to the American public at large remains low at this time," Messonnier said then.