I readThe PremonitionbyMichael LewisonFeb 4th, 2023


The Premonition is a story about COVID-19 pandemic, the dysfunction of US government’s labyrinthine departments, and the heros behind the scenes:

  • Dr. Charity Dean, the Santa Barbara Country public health official who led the task force to expand the COVID testing in California.

  • MD. Carter Mecher, the senior medical advisor in the Veterans Affairs medical system. He was the principal author of the National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza Implementation Plan, aka Plan thereafter, in the Bush administration.

  • Richard Hatchett, the Director for Biodefense Policy of Homeland Security Department, another principal author to the Plan.

  • Bob Glass, and Laura Dea, the father and daughter developed a simulation game to forecast the infection of pandemic, and suggested most effective way to stop the infection is to shut the school system.

Back to 2005, George W. Bush read the The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History written by John Barry, later a task force was organized to investigate the emergency plan to answer the following question:

How do you save lives in a pandemic before you have the drugs and vaccines to do it?

Our heros agreed that there was no single strategy could cover the nature of diseases or the social behaviors. Each strategy like a Swiss cheese with holes, properly aligned would hide the holes. The key is to achieve herd immunity with 11R01 - \frac{1}{R_0} where R0R_0 stands for the reproduction number.

The plan was first de-prioritized after 9/11 attack, the government shifted the attention to the bio warfare; then thrown away when the Obama administration took the office. That was most wasteful inefficiency of the US government: the public policy MAY fall off the cliff during the transition, or the isolated departments try to solve the same problem due to lack of communication and/or clearance.

Then in Jan 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic hit United Status, the Trump administration tried hard to tone down the impact. CDC responded in a slow motion fashion, — the researchers might pay more attention to the post-mortem research than the proactive prevention. The public was so ill-prepared that even the medical swabs could not be sourced.

Chan Zuckerbug Initiative stepped up for California COVID-19 testing, the fast turnout could provide meaningful leads for the epidemiological investigation. Collaborated with Biohub in UCSF, led by Joe DeRisi, the researcher could have a better understanding how the virus evolved.

Closing thoughts

It is unethical to test different hypotheses for the public health policy, thus the history provides valuable lessons we can learn from our precedents. I wish there were a book to assess the policies of Trump and Biden administrations during the pandemic times objectively, without the political bias for our children.