Can We Prepare America for the Next Pandemic?

With every passing moment, nations are establishing precedents for how to contain and ultimately stop a global pandemic. Because the novel coronavirus apparently originated in Wuhan and was immediately covered up by the Chinese Communist Party, the health and welfare of the Chinese people and all other affected populations have suffered from this lethal malfeasance.

But one of the less reported consequences of the Beijing regime’s cover-up (and subsequent propaganda blaming the United States for the virus) is that nations are being forced to establish pandemic precedents on an ad hoc basis, largely upon what we do not know rather than the little we do know about the coronavirus.

Yes, in the United States one can point to and endeavor to compare the annual infections of the flu and its mortality rate, or past instances of the swine flu or other contagious viruses, and question whether our country and others are overreacting to the threat of the coronavirus. (Why the swine flu was treated differently by the national media is another matter.)

But the facts on the ground have rendered the public health point moot. The fundamental decision has been made: at the urging of the medical profession and public health experts, federal and state governments will err on the side of caution, with an overreaction preferred to an under reaction or inaction. (Politically, of course, for the elected officials this makes sense, as no one wants to be featured in an ad that claims they let people die.)

Once the pandemic subsides, no matter how it does, the proponents will be able to argue their measures worked, largely for the same reason their actions occurred—namely because of the unknown. Their argument that more lives would have been lost absent such drastic public health measures will be difficult, if not impossible, to refute. And any argument that public health should be endangered for the sake of the economy will be a nonstarter in the public square.

Setting aside the dismal political shenanigans aimed at politicizing the pandemic, it’s fair to say there have been no well-established public health protocols or precedents during a pandemic for phasing in—however rapidly—measures to protect the citizenry; and there appears to have been no planning whatsoever for the economic consequences of the public health measures necessary to stem the contagion.

Thus, there are hard questions for policymakers, medical and public health professionals, and all interested stakeholders—starting with the sovereign American people who must consent and delegate their power to their government servants to implement the necessary measures during the next pandemic.

Though obviously not exhaustive, and all based upon the premise that a novel emerging virus initially will have little known about it (like this coronavirus), here are three of the most fundamental questions:

Can the rate of infection and/or mortality form the basis for a phased-in escalation of public health measures to contain a novel virus’ spread?

A staged implementation of public health measures to combat the pandemic based upon the facts at hand would be optimum. Easier said than done.

For instance, if the numbers of cases and deaths are within the United States, it will still require time for the numbers to develop; and that means people will be afflicted and many will die. If the numbers come from outside the United States, as we have seen with the deceitful regimes in Communist China and Iran, can the numbers be trusted?

And what of nations that make a good faith effort to report their numbers, but lack the resources that can ensure their accuracy? What happens if, despite the best efforts of everyone, everything needs to be done immediately?

Bluntly, what is the extent to which one can proactively prepare for a pandemic based upon the “known unknowns”?

Can an economic recovery plan be proactively crafted and then implemented for future pandemics?

The coronavirus pandemic has wrought economic devastation and dislocation on a global scale. In so doing, it has revealed our country’s workers and businesses who are most at risk from both the virus and from the public health measures implemented to combat it. Like so many of the government’s actions in the present pandemic, the relief package will prove to have sound and unsound policies and practices, the latter needing to be prevented in the future.

Because the fear of being economically harmed by these public health measures impairs their successful implementation, the assurance that such economic harm will not occur is crucial. The success or lack thereof of the pending remedial economic policies will shape the public’s expectations—for better or for ill—during the next pandemic.

Again, the economic recovery policies we enact today as well as their impacts can instruct policymakers how to improve them for future pandemics—which worked, which didn’t, and why did they or didn’t they work? Who actually needed relief and to what extent? When should the economic mitigation occur, during or after the pandemic? Should all workers and industries receive relief at the same time? How should relief be calculated—per capita, pro-rated, means-tested, etc.? Are direct cash infusions preferable to tax relief or loans? Should there be combinations of all of them?

Importantly, should there be established by federal law a mechanism for instituting a temporary Pandemic Economic Recovery Board, along the lines of World War II’s War Production Board, which can streamline the assessments and implementations required to speed America’s return to economic normality? If battling pandemics is truly a war against a virus, doesn’t it make sense for the temporary creation of an organization to implement what would amount to a post-pandemic Marshall Plan for America?

Such planning does not prioritize the economy over public health; it is a recognition and proactive remediation of the economic consequences of a pandemic and requisite public health measures.

How will proactive pandemic planning and its implementation affect federalism?

Unlike Communist China and the barbarous Iranian regime, despite its fitful start, one of the strengths of America’s response is its flexibility and transparency.

In addition to the federal government, governors have broad powers to implement public health measures to protect their citizens. Should the governor’s powers be increased? Alternatively, would a further nationalized response be more beneficial? Or is the present system sufficient?

Further, while the governors have the power to implement public health measures, such as shutting bars and restaurants, should they be responsible, in whole or in part, for the economic consequences of their decisions? If so, could this adversely impact states’ implementation of public health measures due to fiscal constraints?

Ultimately, federalism must be preserved to the greatest extent possible because, again, when properly functioning it allows for the most rapid, powerful, and effective approach to helping Americans.

At any time during a pandemic, should our constitutional rights be suspended?

The answer is no. But the question comes up because in a time of crisis some would be tempted to answer in the affirmative.

For example, let’s look at a group in disfavor with conservative-populists. In its more lucid moments the press has the ability to report on the course of the pandemic; provide critical information about how to avoid the contagion and about what measures are being implemented to combat it; and reveal legitimate problems with the government and the public’s response to the pandemic. That so many in the media find this hard to do without coming off as fearmongering partisan hacks is regrettable, especially in a time of crisis. Regardless, the First Amendment—and all of our God-given enumerated constitutional rights—must be protected at all times. (“Give me liberty or give me death,” remember?)

I admit the fundamental questions examined above raise a host of other queries, which I tried best as possible to also incorporate. Let’s just say I erred on the side of “overreaction.”

Planning to make the next pandemic less painful than the present one is going to be very difficult, especially given today’s political climate. But that is one ailment easily diagnosed and cured.

If some politicians can’t or won’t address these and so many other related questions in order to prepare America for the next “worst-case scenario,” then vote out the bums who put politics ahead of the public health; and put more responsible public servants in their seats to meet the people’s needs.

About Thaddeus G. McCotter

The Hon. Thaddeus McCotter is the former chairman of the Republican House Policy Committee, current itinerant guitarist, American Greatness contributor, and Monday co-host of the "John Batchelor Show."

Photo: Baac3nes/Getty Images

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