Pandemic Planning
Biosphere Daily Earth Science Government Policy Vote

Pandemic planning: A triumph of ideology over science, and a failure of leadership

The Ebola epidemic of 2014 was a wake-up call to governments around the world. In the USA it resulted in the establishment of the National Security Council Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense. A prime function of the Federal Government is defending the American people. Our military is at the forefront of this effort. But there are some threats that the military can’t handle, and a global pandemic is one of those threats. Thus, health security and biodefense materialized as key links in keeping America safe. However, the current administration closed the Global Health Security and Biodefense office in 2018 for unspecified reasons. The science is clear that pandemics can’t be immediately stopped, but pandemic planning and preparedness to effectively fight an outbreak is the key to saving lives and managing the crisis. Perhaps science doesn’t matter in some circles.

Conservative efforts to limit government often pass into the realm of eliminating government. This happens because the underlying ideology is that private industry can do things more efficiently. So, the decision to not prepare for pandemics reflects an emphasis on ideology as opposed to science. The fallacies of this approach are apparent in the current COVID-19 crisis. The lessons learned about ignoring health security and biodefense, have come at a high cost to the American people.

Neither the government nor private industry have handled the COVID-19 crisis well. The government’s lack of a coherent response to the crisis only inspired panic in the public, business, and financial segments of the country.  The administration’s failure to mount an adequate response to the pandemic is the result of valuing ideology over science. Therefore, money spent on building a wall along the southern border would have been better spent by preparing the USA health system for a pandemic.

Chaos

Chaos is the only word that can reasonably describe the response of the United States government to COVID-19. Denial, followed by dismissal and fueled with misinformation, was the initial response. While South Korea was testing 10,000 people a day for the virus, the USA was testing 10,000 people every two months. 

A scientific approach to the virus dictates first understanding its infection rate and the geographical location of outbreaks. However, this information is impossible to obtain without the ability to widely test for infection. An ideological response to the virus might be to dismiss it as a minor inconvenience and tell the public it will go away with warmer weather. So, ideology clearly won out over science in the early phases of the crisis

The rudderless ship of state continued to flounder even as the full extent of the crisis became apparent. Statements and guidance from the president continued to present an ideological view of how he would like it to be, not the actual facts. Since refusal to acknowledge inconvenient facts is one of the hallmarks of an ideological approach, we again see ideology winning over science. Informed pandemic planning was not part of the administration’s vision for the future.

Lessons learned

It is too early to tell if there are any real lessons learned from this unfortunate experience. Perhaps this time, the severity of the consequences from not being prepared will lodge themselves in the public consciousness. Then the importance of pandemic planning and government leadership in biodefense might rise upward on the voter’s priority list. The government will continue to ignore science and take an ideological approach until the ballot box forces a change. 

William House
William is an earth scientist and writer with an interest in providing the science "backstory" for breaking environmental, earth science, and climate change news.

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