Will we endure 2.2 million deaths? Or will we manage to turn things around?
More broadly, the United States must remedy its health priorities: We pour resources into clinical medicine but neglect public health. What’s the difference? If you get lung cancer, surgeons operate to save your life, but public health professionals keep you from smoking in the first place. If you get the coronavirus, a doctor will treat you; public health aims to keep the pandemic from getting near you. The United States has a decentralized and spotty public health system, and it has endured painful budget cuts, yet historically public health has saved more lives than clinical medicine.
We may dodge a bullet this time, but experts have been warning for decades that a killer pandemic will come; typically, they expected an avian flu like the 1918 pandemic rather than a coronavirus. Singapore and South Korea did well this time partly because they had been frightened by SARS and MERS and were vigilant; if we, too, can be scared enough to invest in public health and fix our health care system, then something good can come from this crisis — and in the long run, that may save lives.
The Big One is approaching, whether now or later, whether we’re prepared or not. Dr. Ferguson, the infectious disease modeler who predicted deaths in the United States might reach 2.2 million, came down with a cough and fever a few days ago. He tested positive for the coronavirus.