Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. ‘A Pandemic Is a Lot Like a Forest Fire…’

 

“A pandemic is a lot like a forest fire,” Bush said at the time. “If caught early it might be extinguished with limited damage. If allowed to smolder, undetected, it can grow to an inferno that can spread quickly beyond our ability to control it.”

In the summer of 2005, President George W. Bush was reading an advance copy of a book about the Spanish Influenza pandemic.

In the summer of 2005, President George W. Bush was on vacation at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, when he began flipping through an advance reading copy of a new book about the 1918 flu pandemic. He couldn’t put it down.

When he returned to Washington, he called his top homeland security adviser into the Oval Office and gave her the galley of historian John M. Barry’s “The Great Influenza,” which told the chilling tale of the mysterious plague that “would kill more people than the outbreak of any other disease in human history.”

“You’ve got to read this,” Fran Townsend remembers the president telling her. “He said, ‘Look, this happens every 100 years. We need a national strategy.'”

“Never attribute to malice that which can be explained by stupidity.” — anonymous police officer

There are many Americans, including the political class, who have the attention span of a gnat. They are easily distracted by bright shiny objects. Such as solar panels, hyperloop trains that will deposit you in an orchard near Fresno, wind turbines, and plastic grocery bags. How many of the political elite have actually slogged around in an orchard outside of Fresno?

In a November 2005 speech at the National Institutes of Health, Bush laid out proposals in granular detail — describing with stunning prescience how a pandemic in the United States would unfold. Among those in the audience was Dr. Anthony Fauci, the leader of the current crisis response, who was then and still is now the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Bush set out to spend $7 billion building out his plan. His cabinet secretaries urged their staffs to take preparations seriously. The government launched a website, www.pandemicflu.gov, that is still in use today. But as time passed, it became increasingly difficult to justify the continued funding, staffing and attention, Bossert said.

“You need to have annual budget commitment. You need to have institutions that can survive any one administration. And you need to have leadership experience,” Bossert said. “All three of those can be effected by our wonderful and unique form of government in which you transfer power every four years.”

Bush declined, through a spokesman, to comment on the unfolding crisis or discuss the current response. But his remarks from 15 years ago still resonate.

“If we wait for a pandemic to appear,” he warned, “it will be too late to prepare. And one day many lives could be needlessly lost because we failed to act today.”

Today arrived in January 2020. Discipline and commitment disappeared years ago.

Published in Healthcare
This post was promoted to the Main Feed by a Ricochet Editor at the recommendation of Ricochet members. Like this post? Want to comment? Join Ricochet’s community of conservatives and be part of the conversation. Get your first month free.

There are 20 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. Tex929rr Coolidge

    We were discussing this the other day among our fire department officers. When we have an incident that appears to be expanding, we call for all the resources we can get early on. It’s not a problem to send unused assets back home, but the alternative is getting overwhelmed. Once you get behind, it’s hell trying to get caught up and ultimately takes a lot more to dig your way out of the hole. This isn’t exactly analogous but close enough in the current situation. Had the chicoms been honest up front and shut down travel out of Wuhan the whole world would be much better off.

    Another interesting part of it is that in disaster planning you plan for demobilization from the beginning. Currently .gov doesn’t appear to be thinking about it much at all.

    • #1
    • April 5, 2020, at 4:28 PM PDT
    • 13 likes
    • This comment has been edited.
  2. kedavis Member

    Well, if you’re dealing with a fire, even a big one, it might be a lot easier to see the “exit strategy” from the beginning.

    But I don’t understand why Peter Robinson, for example, seems to be demanding an “exit strategy” from the current situation when it’s far from clear that the “peak” has even been reached yet.

    • #2
    • April 5, 2020, at 6:19 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  3. Percival Thatcher
    Percival Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Well, if you’re dealing with a fire, even a big one, it might be a lot easier to see the “exit strategy” from the beginning.

    But I don’t understand why Peter Robinson, for example, seems to be demanding an “exit strategy” from the current situation when it’s far from clear that the “peak” has even been reached yet.

    Planning in advance for an event that hasn’t happened yet is subtly related to the term “strategy.”

    • #3
    • April 5, 2020, at 6:35 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
  4. Clifford A. Brown Contributor

    Percival (View Comment):

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Well, if you’re dealing with a fire, even a big one, it might be a lot easier to see the “exit strategy” from the beginning.

    But I don’t understand why Peter Robinson, for example, seems to be demanding an “exit strategy” from the current situation when it’s far from clear that the “peak” has even been reached yet.

    Planning in advance for an event that hasn’t happened yet is subtly related to the term “strategy.”

    Yep. And we’ll know that the “planning” is real when we see the logistics estimate for every phase of the operation.

    • #4
    • April 5, 2020, at 7:19 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  5. DonG (skeptic) Coolidge

    Tex929rr (View Comment):
    Had the chicoms been honest

    I sure hope we don’t spend trillions of dollars on spies and rely on the ChiComs to be honest. I guess all the “spies” and state department were too busy entrapping Carter Page to check in on the happenings in China. Nice job, Deep State!

    • #5
    • April 5, 2020, at 7:24 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  6. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… Member

    Tell me precisely what was to be done, and when. How were we supposed to stop this? Go into lockdown before a single person had died in the US? Shut down the borders when there had been not a single death reported in either America or Western Europe?

    Per my Johns Hopkins data, the first death in Western Europe was on Feb. 15. Not in Italy, but in France. By the end of February, France had 2 reported deaths. Italy reported its first on Feb. 21, and had 29 at the end of February. The US reported its first death on Feb. 29. There was not a single other death reported in the US or Western Europe at the end of February.

    Are you seriously suggesting that we should have taken extreme measures in response to a handful of such cases? That seems wildly unrealistic to me.

    Frankly, Bush’s forest fire analogy is a bad one. Forest fires are immediately apparent. Infections like this spread insidiously, with lag times between infection and symptoms, and further lag times between symptoms and death (if it’s a particularly dangerous infection). By the time it can be noticed, it’s probably too late.

    Then there were the prior scares. SARS was going to be a disaster. Zero deaths in the US, and single-digit diagnosed cases. Then it was MERS. Same thing. Then Swine Flu, which turned out to be no big deal.

    You know, terrible things happen sometimes, and it’s not realistic to be prepared. Imagine that a Manson-type gang kicked down the door to your house, right know, stormed in, and slaughtered your family (or mine). Were you prepared? Well, I’m armed, but I don’t carry my Glock 21 around the house, with a round chambered, just in case someone comes in. It’s in the gun safe. So if some whackos decided to come and kill me and my wife and my kids, I don’t see any way that I could get to my gun in time.

    Would you say that I was unprepared? Undisciplined? Do you carry your gun around in your house, 24/7?

    My impression, from your story, is that President Bush wasted $7 billion.

     

    • #6
    • April 5, 2020, at 11:05 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  7. kedavis Member

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):
    Frankly, Bush’s forest fire analogy is a bad one. Forest fires are immediately apparent.

    It seems you missed the point. Forest fires are immediately apparent, once they’re already forest fires. And disease pandemics are immediately apparent, once people are already dropping like flies. Bush’s point, and the point of various fire departments such as Los Angeles County, for example, because of all the grassland and stuff they have, is you swoop in on the illegal camp fire, or small area brush fire if the illegal camp fire has already “escaped custody,” BEFORE it’s REALLY a FOREST FIRE. That saves you a lot of time, money, and even lives. If you can get a similar jump on a new virus, same thing. Even if it WOULD HAVE turned out to be a nothing-burger, you still haven’t spent as much time, or money, or lives on it, as you might if you wait.

    And if Bush’s “wasted” $7 billion had continued and made it possible to be on top of coronavirus BEFORE all the shut-downs etc that people cry about costing TRILLIONS, well… not wasted after all!

    It may very well be that it was only “wasted” because it was allowed to lapse.

     

    • #7
    • April 6, 2020, at 2:09 AM PDT
    • 8 likes
  8. Tex929rr Coolidge

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):

    You know, terrible things happen sometimes, and it’s not realistic to be prepared. Imagine that a Manson-type gang kicked down the door to your house, right know, stormed in, and slaughtered your family (or mine). Were you prepared? Well, I’m armed, but I don’t carry my Glock 21 around the house, with a round chambered, just in case someone comes in. It’s in the gun safe. So if some whackos decided to come and kill me and my wife and my kids, I don’t see any way that I could get to my gun in time.

    Would you say that I was unprepared? Undisciplined? Do you carry your gun around in your house, 24/7?

    I would not have selected self defense as an analogy, but as it turns out I’m never more than about 15 feet from a loaded weapon in my house, and even in two large outbuildings. And when little kids are coming over I have to secure them, but that’s a rare occurrence. When I’m out in the far reaches of my property I’m usually wearing a handgun, or one is in the vehicle with me.

    • #8
    • April 6, 2020, at 3:08 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  9. Phil Turmel Coolidge

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):
    Do you carry your gun around in your house, 24/7?

    Well, not 24/7, but anytime I’m not in bed or doing manual labor. I’m in the midst of my morning routine, in t-shirt and jeans before I don my dressier work shirt, idling through the internet, and my Colt .45 with two spare mags is hanging from my shoulders. There are days when customers or appointments–doctors and dentists in particular–inhibit me carrying, but I otherwise wear my rig all the time.

    (Totally non-responsive to your point, other than to indict your choice of metaphor.)

    • #9
    • April 6, 2020, at 4:33 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  10. Percival Thatcher
    Percival Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Now, screaming for an “exit strategy” to be promulgated prior to or during an armed conflict is dimwitted. The enemy can be assumed to be listening. Anyone who insists on having that strategy announced is either a journalist or a boob. But this isn’t an armed conflict.

    • #10
    • April 6, 2020, at 7:19 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  11. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… Member

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):
    Frankly, Bush’s forest fire analogy is a bad one. Forest fires are immediately apparent.

    It seems you missed the point. Forest fires are immediately apparent, once they’re already forest fires. And disease pandemics are immediately apparent, once people are already dropping like flies. Bush’s point, and the point of various fire departments such as Los Angeles County, for example, because of all the grassland and stuff they have, is you swoop in on the illegal camp fire, or small area brush fire if the illegal camp fire has already “escaped custody,” BEFORE it’s REALLY a FOREST FIRE. That saves you a lot of time, money, and even lives. If you can get a similar jump on a new virus, same thing. Even if it WOULD HAVE turned out to be a nothing-burger, you still haven’t spent as much time, or money, or lives on it, as you might if you wait.

    And if Bush’s “wasted” $7 billion had continued and made it possible to be on top of coronavirus BEFORE all the shut-downs etc that people cry about costing TRILLIONS, well… not wasted after all!

    It may very well be that it was only “wasted” because it was allowed to lapse.

    No, I understood the point and completely disagreed. This is precisely the problem that I expected. You swoop in an unnecessarily douse completely harmless campfires. You have no idea whether the campfire is going to cause a problem, and they almost always don’t, but all of a sudden campfires are banned.

    In addition, I haven’t seen any arguably plausible way to react to a pandemic like this one in the early stages. It seems to require a complete lockdown, which would have been a tremendous overreaction to anything happening before COVID-19. I do suspect that the lockdown has been an overreaction to the present disease, too, but I must admit that the authorities are having to make decisions based on very limited information, and it could get really bad.

    I see no evidence whatsoever that spending $7 billion a year would have helped in these circumstances. This is the sort of Monday-morning quarterbacking to which I object. I don’t even care about the political affiliation of the administration, as the criticism in the OP may well have been directed more at Obama than at Trump. I don’t think that it’s fair, or realistic, in either case.

    • #11
    • April 6, 2020, at 9:18 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  12. Misthiocracy got drunk and Member
    Misthiocracy got drunk and Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Doug Watt: “Never attribute to malice that which can be explained by stupidity.” — anonymous police officer

    Also known as Hanlon’s Razor, the sentiment goes back to at least Goethe.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanlon%27s_razor

    • #12
    • April 6, 2020, at 10:01 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  13. Misthiocracy got drunk and Member
    Misthiocracy got drunk and Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):
    Are you seriously suggesting that we should have taken extreme measures in response to a handful of such cases? That seems wildly unrealistic to me.

    Well, for one thing, the US government probably shouldn’t have donated 17.8 tons of medical equipment to China back in February.

    I don’t believe that the argument is that extreme measures should have been taken earlier, but rather that if Bush’s playbook had been followed it would have mitigated the need for extreme measures, at least partially.

    Of course, it all depends on an individual’s definition of “extreme”. For example, a lot of people are praising South Korea’s and Singapore’s responses, but those responses included data-tracking that likely would have been denounced as extreme violations of privacy if implemented in the United States.

    • #13
    • April 6, 2020, at 10:07 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
    • This comment has been edited.
  14. Ontheleftcoast Member

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):
    I see no evidence whatsoever that spending $7 billion a year would have helped in these circumstances.

     Barring not yet extant medical advances, sooner or later Spanish Flu 2.0 is coming.

    If the $7 billion had been properly spent, “these circumstances” would have been known to be a false alarm by now.

    But that would have been contingent on not destroyed sufficient autarky that we’re not depending on Chinese manufacturing for critical items and can’t get them. Whether that’s because the Chinese are in trouble and need the stuff for themselves and will happily pay any contract penalties for failure to deliver stuff to us or whether it’s part of a hegemonic scheme doesn’t matter at the moment.

    • #14
    • April 6, 2020, at 11:35 AM PDT
    • Like
  15. Misthiocracy got drunk and Member
    Misthiocracy got drunk and Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Ontheleftcoast (View Comment):
    Barring not yet extant medical advances, sooner or later Spanish Flu 2.0 is coming.

    I would argue that COVID-19 is Spanish Flu 2.0. The difference is that we have now much better knowledge of epidemiology; better medical expertise, technology, and infrastructure; and also better technology for communicating best practices to the general public. 

    If we were limited to the same medical knowledge and technologies that they had back in 1918 it’s a sure bet the death toll from COVID-19 would be much higher. They didn’t even have N95 masks in 1918, let alone high-tech Intensive Care Units, computerized data models, and the Internet.

    • #15
    • April 6, 2020, at 12:27 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  16. kedavis Member

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):
    I see no evidence whatsoever that spending $7 billion a year would have helped in these circumstances.

    I see no evidence that it was going to be $7 billion PER YEAR. And even that first $7 billion might have been spread out over more than one year.

    • #16
    • April 6, 2020, at 6:42 PM PDT
    • Like
  17. kedavis Member

    Misthiocracy held his nose and (View Comment):

    Ontheleftcoast (View Comment):
    Barring not yet extant medical advances, sooner or later Spanish Flu 2.0 is coming.

    I would argue that COVID-19 is Spanish Flu 2.0. The difference is that we have now much better knowledge of epidemiology; better medical expertise, technology, and infrastructure; and also better technology for communicating best practices to the general public.

    If we were limited to the same medical knowledge and technologies that they had back in 1918 it’s a sure bet the death toll from COVID-19 would be much higher. They didn’t even have N95 masks in 1918, let alone high-tech Intensive Care Units, computerized data models, and the Internet.

    Also quite possible.

    • #17
    • April 6, 2020, at 6:44 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  18. kedavis Member

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):
    No, I understood the point and completely disagreed. This is precisely the problem that I expected. You swoop in an unnecessarily douse completely harmless campfires. You have no idea whether the campfire is going to cause a problem, and they almost always don’t, but all of a sudden campfires are banned.

    Campfires are not always illegal, but might be banned due to particularly hazardous conditions of dryness etc, which might lead to a wildfire, which is often the case when those parts of PRC (People’s Republic of California) go up in flames AGAIN.

    • #18
    • April 6, 2020, at 7:07 PM PDT
    • Like
  19. Roderic Coolidge

    The US government was running pandemic response exercises in 2018 and 2019, so just because people didn’t hear about it doesn’t mean there was no preparation. According to a Johns Hopkins study done last year the US was the best prepared nation for this in all the world.

    But when we don’t know about it until it’s already an inferno with additional fires breaking out all over the world it’s hard to follow Bush’s advice and stop it early. We can thank the Chicoms for that.

    • #19
    • April 8, 2020, at 12:41 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  20. kedavis Member

    Roderic (View Comment):

    The US government was running pandemic response exercises in 2018 and 2019, so just because people didn’t hear about it doesn’t mean there was no preparation. According to a Johns Hopkins study done last year the US was the best prepared nation for this in all the world.

    But when we don’t know about it until it’s already an inferno with additional fires breaking out all over the world it’s hard to follow Bush’s advice and stop it early. We can thank the Chicoms for that.

    Another good question to ask is, “Would Medicare-For-All have been better prepared?”

    Hah.

    • #20
    • April 9, 2020, at 12:40 AM PDT
    • Like