The Premonition by Michael Lewis is subtitled A Pandemic Story and covers some of the major players in U.S. pandemic response (or lack thereof) at a county, state, and federal (particularly the CDC) level.
Lewis notes in the introduction that the United States has a bit more than 4% of the world’s population and as of Spring 2021, had a bit more than 20% of its COVID-19 deaths. In February 2021, The Lancet published a piece noted that if the COVID-19 death rate in the U.S. had tracked at the average of the other G7 nations, 180,000 of the then 450,000 dead would still be alive.
The book covers how decentralized the federal government is and yes, it got worse under Trump, but it wasn’t great to begin with. It’s remarkable how ineffectual the CDC is written of as being, and how many county health officers assume that the CDC will provide guidance and leadership. The CDC mentality was described as focused on taking no action they could be blamed for later. Lewis notes what a loss it is that many brilliant and capable people leave government work to be more well treated and respected in the private sector.
It's covered how President George W. Bush in 2005 read the John Barry book The Great Influenza and demanded that a pandemic plan be created. Richard Hatchett and Carter Mecher were two people involved in the creation of the plan and what they wrote was that lives could be saved by taking measures before vaccines available. Additionally, a scientist named Bob Glass figured out along with his high-school-aged daughter how infectious disease transmission could be limited. One of the things that they espoused was school closings, especially giving how tightly confined kids were in school.
Charity Dean is a former chief health officer for Santa Barbara County, and in that role, was struck by the power she had to combat communicable diseases and relentlessly tracked down potentially cataclysmic public health crises. California was noted as unusual with control held at the county health officer level, for most other states, it was the state health officer or governor. As we went in the pandemic, Dean was second in charge at the California Department of Public Health, with the person in charge for the state, Karen Smith, having no experience in communicable diseases and a see no evil, hear no evil approach. She in late February had a call with the 58 county health officers in California and said they on their own, same as Trump said to the states.
Hatchett, Mecher, Dean, Lisa Koonin and a handful of other people, some 5-10 in total, were in contact by early 2020 and all felt that a pandemic was coming, despite the statements from the CDC and White House. It’s described as being like the Mann Gulch fire, burning out of control, but people don’t realize it yet. From their calls and emails emerged actions cherry picked from by the actual government.
Lewis throughout the book writes of the things that should have been done that simply weren’t, and how we should have learned so that we prepared for a virus with the same level of communicability, but a greater potency and fatality rate.