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BILL CRAWFORD — Coronavirus pandemic spotlights inept preparedness

BILL CRAWFORD

To repeat myself, politicians tend to be adept at reactive, tactical political thinking but inept at long-term strategic policy thinking. I wrote about this recently with regard to lack of well thought out, long-term strategies for flood control, transportation and water/sewage infrastructure, and trauma care.

So, here we go again with the coronavirus.

The President and other top politicians initially reacted with political tactics. The virus, of course, ignored this and continued its inevitable creep across the globe and into the United States. Subsequent steps to combat the virus have also been reactive.

Meanwhile, the U.S. is ill prepared to deal with this pandemic.

At least our health care system was prepared, right?

For decades numerous books, movies, and scientific studies have spotlighted the potential deadly risks of highly contagious organisms, both natural and manmade. Yet, America’s inept preparedness may force doctors to choose which elderly patients get access to a respirator and which are left to die.

As reported in the New York Times, a federal government study in 2005 “estimated that a severe influenza pandemic would require mechanical ventilators for 740,000 critically ill people.” A 2010 study found only about 62,000 full-featured ventilators available in hospitals with another 10,000 or so stored in the Strategic National Stockpile for emergency use.

Thousands of other respiratory devices could be repurposed in an emergency, “but the shortfall could be stark, potentially forcing doctors to make excruciating life-or-death decisions about who would get such help should hospitals become flooded with the desperately sick.”

Most of the resources to fight a pandemic are located in urban areas. Rural areas, think most of Mississippi, must do without.

Then there is this example of inept preparedness. Kits to test for the virus are in short supply. Even worse, the CDC initially distributed flawed test kits, slowing early detection of the virus’s spread.

South Korea rapidly tested hundreds of thousands, aggressively tracked those with confirmed cases, and has significantly controlled the spread of the virus.

Neither the tests nor the tracking process are ready to go here.

Well, our economy can handle this right?

The stock market doesn’t think so. The long-term bull market crashed into the second quickest bear market. The virus’s looming economic disruption, think China and Italy, is scaring investors.

Already in the U.S., pro sports have cancelled/suspended events, the NCAA cancelled March Madness, Disney parks are closing, Broadway is shuttered, states are prohibiting large gatherings, corporations are prohibiting travel and implementing work-from-home strategies, schools have closed, colleges have suspended on-campus classes and sports.

Restrictions on imports are hurting global supply chains. The virus may soon disrupt systems that supply food, medicine, and other necessities. Washington State, the early hard hit state, expects layoffs/shutdowns in face-to-face service industries such as hotels, restaurants, sports venues, and charitable food and clothing banks.

Ironically, the military had a long-term strategic plan in place to respond to a pandemic. Orders to execute this plan were issued last week.

The rest of us must wait for the reactive, tactical political plan to be figured out and implemented.

“A wise man plans ahead; a fool doesn’t and even brags about it” – Proverbs 13:16 (TLB).

» BILL CRAWFORD is a syndicated columnist from Jackson.

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