- - Monday, March 2, 2020

It is not whether a pandemic will visit us; it is when. And, with the spread of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) worldwide, is it now and are we prepared?

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) describes a pandemic as a “global disease outbreak,” such that an influenza pandemic occurs when “a new flu virus emerges for which people have little or no immunity.” One of the most socially and economically challenging components of an influenza is the possibility of contagion — when a virus spreads rapidly and easily from person to person, which can cause serious illness in a short period of time across a large landscape.

The economic and social consequences of a pandemic are significant. The Council of Economic Advisers published a report in 2019 in anticipation of the possibility of such a catastrophe, finding that pandemics can cause between $413 billion to $3.79 trillion in economic damages in a year.

However, these damages could be an underestimate since they do not account for the effects of a pandemic on uncertainty in the market, which has led Global Research at Bank of America to reduce their projected global growth forecast for 2020 down to 2.8 percent and Moody’s Analytics to raise their prediction of a recession due to the coronavirus.

But, while the potential damages of a pandemic are in general large, the analyses thus far on the coronavirus are largely global in nature and fail to account for the rapid federal response to secure the country and create a cure. That’s evident in a recent Gallup poll that found 77 percent of the population is very or somewhat confident in the government’s ability to handle the coronavirus, up significantly from 58 percent from the Ebola virus in 2014 and 67 percent from the swine flu in 2009.

Early in the outbreak, President Trump formed a Coronavirus Task Force led by a Cabinet-level official, HHS Secretary Alex Azar, to organize an all-of-government approach. This commitment to an integrated and decisive federal response was recently augmented by the appointment of Vice President Mike Pence to oversee the task force, together with additional support from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Surgeon General Jerome Adams and NEC Director Larry Kudlow. 

This task force is comprised of subject matter experts from across the government, including some of the nation’s foremost experts on infectious disease, providing updates and important convening power to galvanize the collective efforts of agencies to assist state and local governments. 

At a time when coronavirus was just getting on the radar, the administration took decisive steps to mitigate the spread of the virus to the United States by looping in customs and border, airlines, airports, shipping and health officials. For example, airport screenings have been expanded to identify anyone showing symptoms.

Moreover, the president suspended entry into America of certain foreign nationals who have recently traveled to China and who pose a risk of transmitting the disease. The administration has declared a public health emergency and has utilized reserved funding to help support response efforts to the virus, including increased education to identify cases.

The United States is working to expedite the development of a vaccine and is consulting experts to expand research and understand the transmission of coronavirus. For example, breakthroughs at the University of Nebraska Medical Center are leading to recoveries among the infected patients in quarantine, leading to optimism among both sides of the aisle. 

More generally, the Trump administration is in regular communication with state and local officials to make sure every community is prepared for any future coronavirus development. For example, the CDC has mobilized state health departments to receive returned travelers.

Across the country, 62 Public Health Emergency Preparedness programs are part of the multi-agency infrastructure working on quarantine, isolation, case finding, protecting health care workers and assuring medical supply chains. FEMA is also readying more than 50 teams to respond and support states and territories that may need assistance.

Moreover, the Trump administration has requested emergency government appropriations from Congress to cover the costs of aggressive preparations to prevent an outbreak and to respond. Between the new funding and authorities being requested, the administration expects to allocate at least $2.5 billion in response to the coronavirus.

This vital funding will be used for a wide-ranging response, including public health preparedness, laboratory testing, quarantine costs and the development of vaccines. The funding will increase personal protective equipment for the national stockpile.

While some events are unavoidable, one of the important characteristics of a leader is how he or she responds in trials and under pressure. The United States has a plan for the coronavirus. Mr. Trump is coordinating a robust federal, state and local effort to prevent an outbreak of the coronavirus and to deal with one when and if it should occur. Because of these federal actions, the risk of infection for Americans remains low and precious time has been gained to keep it that way. 

America needs to come together at a time of impending crisis. Now is not the time for politics. Now is the time for patriotism and resolve.

• Bradley A. Blakeman, a deputy assistant to President George W. Bush, is a principal of the 1600 Group, an adjunct professor of public policy and international affairs at Georgetown University, and a frequent guest on Fox News and Fox Business. Christos A. Makridis is (research) assistant professor at Arizona State University, a digital fellow at the MIT Sloan Initiative on the Digital Economy and a senior adviser to Gallup.

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