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Uncontrolled Spread

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Uncontrolled Spread

Why COVID-19 Crushed Us and How We Can Defeat the Next Pandemic


15 min read
7 take-aways
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Former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb examines what went wrong with the United States’ response to COVID-19.

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In painstaking detail, former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb dissects the United States’ fumbling response to the COVID-19 pandemic. From a shortage of surgical masks to the diagnostic tests that didn’t work, Gottlieb exposes the institutional weaknesses that kept the nation unaware of how and where the virus was spreading; that ignorance led to ineffective mitigation efforts. Gottlieb offers an insider’s perspective on the unfolding crisis and shares his well-informed views on how the United States can better prepare for the next health emergency.


The United States was not ready to mount an effective defense against the novel coronavirus.

Once the first case of COVID-19 appeared in the United States, the disease spread silently through the country, evading detection by US officials. The most significant obstacle to controlling the spread was the lack of widespread diagnostic testing.

The government based its response on a “pandemic playbook” ill-suited to managing this type of virus. The Strategic National Stockpile, a cache of drugs and medical gear set aside for emergencies, was low on important items and missing others.

In January 2020, China reported that a mystery disease had hit the city of Wuhan.

Chinese officials revealed the first cases had shown up in December 2019. They said an animal sold at an open-air food market was the source of the infection and maintained there was no “human-to-human transmission.” The speed of the spread suggested otherwise, and the most recent cases didn’t appear to have any connection to the market.

On January 18, Chinese officials announced there were 198 cases, but London researchers suspected there ...

About the Author

Former commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration Scott Gottlieb, MD, is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

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