The Premonition: A Pandemic Story, by Michael Lewis WW Norton & Company hide caption
WW Norton & Company
WW Norton & Company
Much has been written about how the pandemic came about – but not so well known are the details of how it spread so quickly in the United States
Author Michael Lewis has written a new book, The Premonition, that fills in these gaps. And it’s a full-blown indictment against the Centers for Disease Control.
Lewis, also author of Liar’s Poker, Moneyball, The Blind Side, and The Big Short, says one of the people who realized the real danger of the virus before the rest of the country was a public health doctor in California named Charity Dean .
“Nobody should have to be as brave as Charity, the local health officer, to get their job done. She had to be brave enough to bring tears to my eyes,” Lewis told NPR. “And the first time I met her, I realized I had a character because all over her house they were like those sticky notes reminding them to be brave, like it was a gut, a muscle memory, or something or or the tallest oak in The Forest was once just a little nut. It had all of these inspiring things. And when you get into the story of what Charity … was doing on the ground, your hair is at the back of your neck . “
Lewis writes about how Dean tried to get state officials around her to look at the data and act to make sure the virus didn’t spread. She risked everything, her reputation, her job. And across the country there was another group of doctors, led by Carter Mescher, trying to do the same at the federal level.
“It was incredible to me that there was this kind of secret group of seven doctors, they called themselves the Wolverines, who were positioned in interesting places in and around the federal government, who had been together for almost 15 years and who had come together when the threat of a disease outbreak loomed to organize the country’s response, “says Lewis.
But by 2020 the Trump administration had disbanded the Pandemic Response Unit and these doctors were forced to become villains. A mutual acquaintance brought Charity Dean into contact with Carter Mescher.
“And Charity took up all of Carter Mescher’s analysis. And she said it was like pouring water on a dying plant. It was the first person she met who thought about this threat as much as he thought about it.” says Lewis. “And so she’s on the private calls very soon. Think of her as an actual battlefield commander. She’s at war, in the trenches, like she’s found out in her public health career that there aren’t any generals or those . ” Generals don’t understand how the battle was fought. And it has to somehow organize the strategy on the field. “
Hundreds of Americans were flown back to the United States in Wuhan, China, in January and February 2020. Given the number of people who had died of Covid-19 in China at the time, it would have made sense to test the returning Americans. However, according to Lewis and his sources, then-CDC director Robert Redfield refused to test them, saying it would mean investigating people in prison.
“Redfield is a particularly egregious example, but it expresses a much bigger problem. And if you just say, oh, it’s the Trump administration, or, oh, it’s Robert Redfield, you’re missing the big picture,” says Lewis. “And the big picture is that we as a society have allowed institutions like the CDC to become very politicized. And this is a bigger pattern in the US government. More and more jobs are politicized, more and more people in those jobs are shorter. Tighter lines, more like the kind of person who ends up in the job, someone politically agreeable to anyone in the White House right now. And so … the conditions for Robert Redfield in this job were created a long time ago. ” “
Lewis says he asked the CDC for comment but they wouldn’t speak to him.
“So I did guerrilla journalism,” he says. “I interviewed people who were willing to speak to me either in the background or on the file. And there were a few people on the file. But the CDC itself, I was told, didn’t want – didn’t want to talk to me. “
According to Lewis’ report, the CDC basically had two positions on the pandemic from the start: First, there was nothing to see here – that’s not a big deal. It gets overblown. And then there was this very quick spin as it spread across the US and the position became, it’s too late. We can not do anything.
“Charity Dean said the great shame of their behavior was that they waited so long that we would never have been able to contain it,” says Lewis. “They pretended it wasn’t important until it was too late. That it could be included as Australia said it was. There were things we could do, many, many. And they’d been more aggressive to begin with Many, many thousands of Americans would live today who are not. “
According to Lewis, the tragedy that turned into the American Covid pandemic was a perfect storm of President Trump’s response, the long history of politicizing the CDC and the lack of a public health system.
“I think all of my characters would say that because of the way we don’t govern ourselves, how we don’t create a system, this would have been pretty bad under almost any administration and that it would have exposed the holes in the system and those Weaknesses in the system, the lack of the system, “he says.
Lewis followed these doctors for many months inside and outside the federal government as they tried to ring the alarm bells and call for the kind of interventions that would have saved lives. But for him, Charity Dean is characterized by what she wanted to risk.
“You can’t believe what we’re asking of these people,” says Lewis. “And for me there was something incredibly moving about this woman who decided that, even though she was fearful for all sorts of good reasons, she wanted to be brave for the sake of other people’s lives. And it did all these lives saved because she had insisted on that trait in herself. “
It is a trait that the system not only did not reward but also punished.
“You saw that in the pandemic. Charity would tell you – and I think it’s true – that the pandemic has put some kind of selective pressure on our public health officials,” says Lewis. “And it removes the brave. The brave have all their heads cut off. So it is a kind of institutionalization of a cowardice that we have to face in order to get this business of punishing people who do their damned thing.” The attempt to save ourselves from ourselves must stop. “