March 9, 2023

Another COVID Brawl

If we want to be ready for the next pandemic, we’d better face up to the realities of the last one.

Will we ever stop writing about — and fighting about — COVID?

Answer: Probably not; and as much as we are totally fed up with everything COVID, it remains as important as ever to learn all that we possibly can about the nightmarish disease that killed more than a million Americans, destroyed our economy, and may well be a preview of worse pandemics ahead.

The U.S. Department of Energy recently concluded that the COVID virus was “most likely” released by an incident of some kind at the Wuhan Virology Institute in China. That was explosive news, given that the origin of COVID has been the subject of heated and highly polarized debate for three years.

Our government (via Dr. Anthony Fauci) has insisted all along that the virus came from animal-to-human infection, probably at the wet markets near Wuhan. Skeptics (mainly on the Right) have disagreed vociferously. And like all hot topics in this combative age, the debate turned partisan, to the point of censorship and ridicule of all who favored the lab-origin theory.

Even after these latest revelations, the matter is not settled — “most likely” is not the same as “definitely,” and several other government scientific organizations still support the natural origin theory.

But uncertainty and political head-knocking aside, we can agree that the question remains extraordinarily important. We learned the hard way that once a virus as infectious as COVID gets loose, it is nearly impossible to contain. We must know how and where it can originate and take whatever steps necessary to prevent its escape.

Given what we know today, I’d argue that we should:

1.) Accept the obvious: It came from the Wuhan lab. COVID just happened to show up in the same city as a virology laboratory world-renowned for developing and testing such microbes. Coincidence? Please.

2.) Deal with China accordingly. The Chinese won’t share the medical and testing details of their initial COVID cases (which in itself tells us something). But absent compelling proof to the contrary, we must assume that COVID came from the Wuhan lab and act accordingly in dealing with our Chinese adversaries.

3.) Don’t assume that the leak was intentional or malicious. Common sense argues otherwise — surely the CCP could find better ways to poison its prospective enemies than infecting its own citizens and hoping the disease spreads across the Pacific.

4.) Demand that our government open the books on COVID. There is currently a massive trust gap between citizens and government. We’re told to “trust the science,” but that science is revealed to us through government operatives (Dr. Fauci in the lead), who have been demonstrably untrustworthy.

Joe Biden staked his claim on the presidency by arguing that “anyone who is responsible for 220,000 deaths from COVID should not be president.” It worked. Then, as the COVID casualty figures continued to go through the roof, he found others to blame (“it’s a disease of the unvaccinated!”), imposed crippling and ineffective constraints, kept schools closed and bars open, used the emergency as an excuse to score political points (such as “forgiving” student loans), and ultimately took credit for stopping it.

The public has been enormously generous in grading Biden’s pandemic response — and in fairness, like his predecessor, Biden was ill-equipped to lead us through it. But now is the time for naked honesty in assessing COVID’s lessons and better preparing us for the future.

When it comes to massive trust gaps, I know wherein I speak, having been on the wrong side of a comparable one many years ago. At 4:00 a.m. on March 28, 1979, the Three Mile Island #2 nuclear reactor near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, went into a sudden, dizzying failure sequence. That was the first ever nuclear accident of that magnitude. The operators did not initially understand what was happening, and the company was unprepared to deal simultaneously with deteriorating plant conditions and public communications.

Through ignorance, our initial reports were wrong. Public trust went out the window, misinformation from all sources ruled the day, and public panic ensued. Happily, the plant’s designed-in safety features prevented harm to people or the environment, but in the years that followed, mine was one of the voices that had to be believed (I was one of the plant executives leading the recovery work) and it took a very long time for us to restore that damaged trust.

The inescapable lesson — taken to heart by our company after that disastrous start and followed rigorously thereafter — was to tell the whole truth, no matter how embarrassing or problematic, every time.

It’s not complicated. That’s also the post-COVID lesson for the Biden administration, the CDC, and the next Dr. Fauci.

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