Laurie Garrett, This is America?!

Her Pulitzer, in 1996, was for coverage of Ebola in Zaire. She Predicted the Coronavirus. What Does She Foresee Next?

Laurie Garrett, the prophet of this pandemic, expects years of death and “collective rage.”

Frank Bruni May 2, 2020
Opinion Columnist TimesThe New York Times

Laurie Garrett cheering essential workers from the roof of her apartment building, joining a citywide ritual every evening in New York.
Credit… Joshua Bright for The New York Times

I told Laurie Garrett that she might as well change her name to Cassandra. Everyone is calling her that anyway.,,, Cassandra, of course, was the prophetess of Greek mythology who was doomed to issue unheeded warnings….

She saw it coming. So a big part of what I wanted to ask her about was what she sees coming next. Steady yourself. Her crystal ball is dark.
Despite the stock market’s swoon for it, remdesivir probably isn’t our ticket out, she told me. “It’s not curative,” she said, pointing out that the strongest claims so far are that it merely shortens the recovery of Covid-19 patients. “We need either a cure or a vaccine.”
But she can’t envision that vaccine anytime in the next year, while Covid-19 will remain a crisis much longer than that.

“I’ve been telling everybody that my event horizon is about 36 months, and that’s my best-case scenario,” she said….


People will re-evaluate the importance of travel. They’ll reassess their use of mass transit. They’ll revisit the need for face-to-face business meetings. They’ll reappraise having their kids go to college out of state.
So, I asked, is “back to normal,” a phrase that so many people cling to, a fantasy?

“This is history right in front of us,” Garrett said. “Did we go ‘back to normal’ after 9/11? No. …

But there is one part of the story she couldn’t have predicted: that the paragon of sloppiness and sluggishness would be the United States.

“I never imagined that,” she said. “Ever.”…


And she’s shocked that America isn’t in a position to lead the global response to this crisis, in part because science and scientists have been so degraded under Trump.

Referring to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and its analogues abroad, she told me: “I’ve heard from every C.D.C. in the world — the European C.D.C., the African C.D.C., China C.D.C. — and they say, ‘Normally our first call is to Atlanta, but we ain’t hearing back.’ There’s nothing going on down there. They’ve gutted that place. They’ve gagged that place. I can’t get calls returned anymore. Nobody down there is feeling like it’s safe to talk. Have you even seen anything important and vital coming out of the C.D.C.?”

The problem, Garrett added, is bigger than Trump and older than his presidency. America has never been sufficiently invested in public health. The riches and renown go mostly to physicians who find new and better ways to treat heart disease, cancer and the like. The big political conversation is about individuals’ access to health care.

But what about the work to keep our air and water safe for everyone, to design policies and systems for quickly detecting outbreaks, containing them and protecting entire populations? Where are the rewards for the architects of that?

Garrett recounted her time at Harvard. “The medical school is all marble, with these grand columns,” she said. “The school of public health is this funky building, the ugliest possible architecture, with the ceilings falling in.”
“That’s America?” I asked.
“That’s America,” she said.


And what America needs most right now, she said, is a federal government that assertively promotes and helps to coordinate that, not one in which experts like Tony Fauci and Deborah Birx tiptoe around a president’s tender ego.

“I can sit here with you for three hours listing — boom, boom, boom — what good leadership would look like and how many more lives would be saved if we followed that path, and it’s just incredibly upsetting.” Garrett said. “I feel like I’m just coming out of maybe three weeks of being in a funk because of the profound disappointment that there’s not a whisper of it.”…

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