The Journal Gazette
Thursday, April 02, 2020 1:00 am

Lessons relearned

Pandemic spurs resurgence of creativity

Dr. William Cast

“There is nothing new, except what has been forgotten,” Marie Antoinette is quoted as having said.

And with CVD (SARS Coronavirus 2, causing COVID-19), what we forgot brought us a pandemic. An article in the new Foreign Affairs magazine is headlined, “Ebola Should Have Immunized the United States to the Coronavirus: What Washington Failed to Learn From the National Security Council's Ebola Report.”

In 2016, with White House participation, the National Security Council produced a 73-page analysis with a list of recommendations. That report concluded that a far more dangerous epidemic with domestic spread was a matter of “when, not if.” And “... the response to Ebola exposed gaps in preparedness and capability in every security-related agency in the U.S. government.”

The article is unnecessarily political in pointing to current agencies and this administration. The lesson is real, but there is plenty of blame to go around.

The Ebola epidemic began in Africa in 2013; a report was not completed until 2016. Actually, other nations learned much earlier, from the SARS Corona 1 epidemic of 2003. Lessons learned from the SARS experience in Singapore and Taiwan are credited with their success against COVID-19.

Education is said to be what lingers after forgetting what we've been taught. We forgot that physicians in Fort Wayne received SARS 1 personal protection equipment protocol in 2003. Dr. Anthony Fauci has directed the nation's infectious disease agency since 1984, facing disease threats from HIV, SARS, swine flu, MERS and Ebola. Six presidents have had the opportunity to follow his advice for pandemic preparation. Washington took the threats lightly.

What do we now remember? We know the spread during a pandemic is purely mathematical; Michael Bechill of the University of Saint Francis created a YouTube video showing the exponential activity of viral particles.

The virus follows mathematics and behaves exactly as people allow it to spread — indoors, in groups and by touching our faces without washing. We've learned that bending the curve means knowing a lot about graphs — logarithmic and with the proper selection of data.

We've hungered for good information about COVID-19. We know the internet is rife with scams and fake reports. We've remembered that we need good journalism; we need newspapers and magazines.

We've learned that globalism is wonderful for low prices at Walmart, but not good when we cannot get masks, motors for ventilators or chemicals to manufacture drugs in the U.S. Our hospitals are stocked with personal protective equipment for normal use, not for a surge in critical patients. Hospital suppliers provided just-in-time delivery but relied on shipments from China. We forgot the supply lessons of World War II.

We've suspended Food and Drug Administration regulations, making us wonder whether we had been overregulated. The usual time to develop a vaccine is six years, but now we expect to see the first of several within eight months. Suddenly, opposition to flu vaccination has gone silent. We've remembered how we defeated polio and how we manage influenza.

We're forced to recall the ingenuity of enterprises that can make do with shortages.

Vera Bradley, other suppliers and local sewers are making masks. A local group, working with engineers from Purdue, has developed an inexpensive ventilator prototype made from local materials, provisionally patented and being readied for manufacture. Local and regional laboratories are developing their own test kits as was first allowed in New York.

Nothing is new. We've just remembered.

Dr. William Cast wrote this on behalf of Northeast Indiana Citizens for Healthcare Excellence.

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