Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government’s top infectious disease specialist, warned in early 2017 that a “surprise outbreak” would occur during the Trump administration, and he said that more needed to be done to prepare for a pandemic.
“There is no question that there will be a challenge to the coming administration in the arena of infectious diseases,” he said in a speech titled “Pandemic Preparedness in the Next Administration” at Georgetown University Medical Center. He delivered it just days before Trump was inaugurated on Jan. 20, 2017.
Fauci, who has overseen the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) since 1984, warned that looming health challenges would involve both chronic diseases ― ones already ongoing ― as well as “a surprise outbreak.”
“No matter what, history has told us definitively that [outbreaks] will happen,” he said. “It is a perpetual challenge. It is not going to go away. The thing we’re extraordinarily confident about is that we are going to see this in the next few years.”
Fauci ticked off a list of measures needed to prepare for such a crisis, including creating and strengthening global health surveillance systems, as well as public health and health care infrastructure; practicing transparency and honest communication with the public; coordinating and collaborating on both basic and clinical research, and developing universal platform technologies to better facilitate the development of vaccines.
“The mistake that so many people have made … is a failure to look beyond our own borders in the issue of the globality of health issues, not only things that are there that will come here but surprises that we’ll have,” he said in his prescient remarks.
Despite Fauci’s early warnings and calls for action, a report on Sunday analyzing the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic found that federal agencies waited until the middle of last month to order vital medical supplies and equipment to fight the coronavirus, despite warnings about its pandemic potential being made in January. As the virus has spread across the country, reports persist of mass shortages of supplies in hospitals and medical centers.
“We basically wasted two months,” Kathleen Sebelius, who served as the Health and Human Services secretary during the Obama administration, told The Associated Press of the government’s response.
Fauci has also expressed exasperation over the efforts to stem to tide of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. On Thursday, he spoke out against states that have not issued a stay-at-home order to help prevent the virus from spreading.
“I don’t understand why that’s not happening,” he said on CNN of stay-at-home orders in all 50 states. “The tension between federally mandated versus states’ rights to do what they want is something I don’t want to get into. But if you look at what is going on in this country, I do not understand why we are not doing that. We really should be.”
As of Sunday, the U.S. has more than 304,000 COVID-19 cases.