We have to level with the public about the efficacy of masks. If they are universally worn, masks are highly effective in preventing the spread. That was one of the major reasons that a few small Asian countries were able to cope effectively with this challenge. Pictured: A class at Dajia Elementary School, in Taiwan, where face masks are mandatory in schools. (Photo by Sam Yeh/AFP via Getty Images)
Looking ahead is probably more constructive and more interesting than simply analyzing what has already occurred. One, is how to avoid ever having another shutdown. Two, what we can do to prepare for the next viral pandemic ‑‑ there will be more ‑‑ and the possibility of germ warfare.
That risk has certainly gone up since our enemies around the world have watched how this virus has laid us low. It is obvious that introducing a virus into a country is a lot easier than building aircraft carriers and intercontinental ballistic missiles.
All of the security experts agree that we have to be more on guard than ever about the risk of some sort of germ warfare. Many of the preparatory steps, defensive measures that I'm going to discuss are equally applicable to a viral pandemic or a man-made threat.
Then I'm going to go into some of the lost opportunities, focusing on advice the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) should be giving but has failed to offer.
Finally, is the shocking -- I would call insidious -- collaboration between many American scientists and the Chinese to hide the origins of this virus and what I have found about that.
The important goal, I believe, is to ensure that when we are hit with another viral pandemic or resurgence of this virus, or some other dangerous pathogen, we can adequately defend ourselves without an economic shutdown. After all, the shutdown was not caused by the virus. It was caused by years of unpreparedness. It is quite obvious what needs to be done.
Of course, Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats in the House are calling for commissions and panels and reports. Let me assure you, over the last 15 years, there have been 10 separate investigations by the federal agencies on how to prepare for a viral pandemic.
Ten warnings that the US was unprepared, that the stockpile was empty, that the hospital capacity was inadequate, that our supply chain was too dependent on China, etc. Ten big reports, they have all gathered dust, and nothing was done about it. That is through three presidents who preceded Donald Trump.
There is no reason for another investigation, another blue ribbon panel, especially if it is televised and all those politicians get a chance to get their five minutes in the sun. Instead, we have an action list already. We need to stock the stockpile. We need to ensure that America has its own medical supply chain rather than being so helplessly, hopelessly dependent on China.
We have to level with the public about the efficacy of masks. That was one of the major reasons that a few small Asian countries were able to cope effectively with this challenge, including Singapore. We have to prepare our hospitals for surge capacity if the virus peaks suddenly in one city or another as it did, for example, in New York.
We have to prepare our nursing homes so that we can target resources and train staff, especially infection control staff, to those nursing homes. They became death pits in the current pandemic. We have to use our technological capacities to make workplaces and schools safer in the event of an intruding pathogen.
We have that capacity although, unfortunately, the CDC has not been discussing it or recommending it. Let me start and go through each of these and some of the enormous progress that President Trump has already made in just three months since the shutdown began.
Again, let me emphasize, this is not the last pandemic. We probably will face some sort of threat of germ warfare in the future. The untold story is how much better prepared we are than a mere three months ago.
Let us start with the stockpile. The stockpile was woefully inadequate when the virus hit. It had been severely depleted during the Obama administration in 2013, and masks, particularly, had not been replaced.
Also, year after year, the career officials who run the bureaucracy in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the permanent bureaucracy, who are globalists in their mindset, preferred to spend money on building labs in Africa, fighting disease in Afghanistan, training scientists in China, instead of preparing our own American stockpile.
The stockpile had a very small budget, and the bureaucrats never asked for more. That was what I found so shocking. Fortunately, the bill that passed in Congress, recently signed by the President, increased that funding 38 times over, and there will be, for example, 300 million masks in that stockpile by August. The president has really zeroed in on the stockpile.
Another example is ventilators. We were severely short of ventilators. We are now so awash in ventilators that they are sending them to other countries. The stockpile issue has been taken care of.
The next one, of course, is the medical supply chain. It was a terrible problem that China is the largest supplier of imported masks, goggles, generic antibiotics ‑‑ and those are very key in fighting this viral pandemic because so many of the patients die not from the virus, but from a secondary bacterial infection. We need those antibiotics.
The president has already signed contracts to begin manufacturing the raw materials for antibiotics, pain medications, and other prescription drugs needed to treat this virus. Not the first‑line therapeutics like Remdesivir, things that are just being developed, but the second‑line drugs that are needed for relief of symptoms.
He has already signed a contract to provide domestic production of those medications. He has also signed contracts to really ramp up domestic production of masks, goggles, and other equipment needed by hospitals and nursing homes. We are good there.
The third issue on the list was hospital capacity. There, FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, did a remarkable job. They built temporary hospitals, the Javits Center, for example, in New York, two out on Long Island, and all across the country at 26 other sites. Those hospitals are available in the event of surge capacity. I am told it would only take a couple of days to get them up and running again.
Also, the Massachusetts hospitals... Massachusetts, as you know, is one of the hospital centers of the country. The hospitals in Massachusetts created their own surge capacity. They have left it in place understanding there might be a second wave of this virus, or in all likelihood, more viruses, more pandemics, and other types of surge needs in the future.
We are far better prepared for a surge in hospital demand but there are still some gaps in our defense. The biggest is nursing homes. My organization, the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths, has focused on the unpreparedness of nursing homes since long before coronavirus. As soon as the virus struck, we put out guidelines, and reached out to the nursing homes to help get them ready.
We know that more than half the deaths in the United States have occurred in nursing homes. In some states, as many as 85% of the deaths. When you look at the shutdown, it is obvious that we could have cut the mortality by double digits. Not in half, but certainly by major double digits, by focusing all of the resources and staff on these facilities that treat the elderly rather than shutting down our entire economy, especially when you look at the collateral damage. I am not talking about wealth damage, but also health damage from the shutdown.
It is likely that more people will die from the impact of the shutdown than from the virus itself. We know, for example, that for every 1% uptick in unemployment, we see a 3% uptick in opioid‑addiction deaths. We see a 0.99% -- virtually 1% -- uptick in suicide deaths. We see an increase in heart attack deaths.
We know that this shutdown is going to produce more deaths of despair than mortality from the virus itself. I'll talk a bit later about how we got there, how amazing it was that we allowed these health officials who were only calculating one type of impact to govern the decision‑making without weighing what the collateral damage would be.
Imagine going to a cardiovascular doctor who says, "I'm going to do this and that to your heart." You ask, "What about my kidneys?" "I don't specialize in those. If you die of kidney failure, that's not my problem."
That is exactly what we have here. We have the public health officials saying we are going to shut down the economy to reduce the number of coronavirus deaths while ignoring the deaths that will be the collateral damage from the economic shutdown.
The key takeaway is that we are far more prepared for the next virus or a resurgence of COVID-19 than we were several months ago. Since the shutdown was caused by unpreparedness rather than the virus itself, do not even listen to those public health officials like Anthony Fauci or governors like Andrew Cuomo who say, "if we have a surge, we will have to shut down again." Let me assure you, the American people will not tolerate another shutdown, nor should they.
In New York, for example, we know that only 1.58% of the deaths were people under 65 who had no comorbidities. As tragic as each one is, and when those young people died, they made headlines because it is so unusual, but we have to make public policy that works for the vast majority of people. In this case, targeting the assistance at the elderly is exactly what we should have done.
About three weeks ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put out a 17‑page guideline on how to reopen.
We are all very interested in reopening. We know that many businesses are dying. It is a tragedy for people who have spent 20 or 30 years of their life building a business to see it die because they just do not have the cash to wait through another month of shutdown. We are all eager to reopen.
Unfortunately, the CDC put out a set of guidelines that could have been written 50 years ago. It is so unreflective of the high‑tech expertise and appreciation of the private sector within the Trump administration that Trump actually put them on his desk and held them for a couple of weeks.
They were embarrassing. For example, the CDC says if you want to reopen office buildings or open schools, you should place the desks six feet apart and open the windows.
Well, maybe so, but the CDC should also be advising schools and workplaces, like businesses, about the antimicrobial coatings that could be put on desks, chairs, and doorknobs to prevent the virus traces from being transferred from one person to another on their hands.
The copper keyboards and the antimicrobial keyboards, the business equipment that is made with copper‑impregnated polymers. All of these are already used in hospitals and other areas where we are concerned about the transmission of bacteria and viruses.
That equipment could be used in workplaces and educational institutions to make them much safer when employees and children go back to school in the fall. We should be retooling our environments now with this high‑tech equipment so that when the next pandemic hits or when the virus returns, we are ready.
What a shame that the major agency responsible for stemming the spread of infectious diseases is so unaware of all these technologies. I have asked myself, "Why don't they know?"
Here is the answer. If you work for a government agency like the CDC, you can talk to university scientists or government scientists any day of the week.
But if you want to talk to somebody who works in the private sector, a company, you have to wait for vendor day. Can you imagine? It is as if people in the for‑profit private sector have a scarlet A on their forehead and you should not hear what they have to offer.
Unfortunately, just as the CDC seems unaware of high‑tech solutions to stopping hospital infections, they also seem to be unaware, unappreciative, of all the technologies that we could use in the workplace and in education.
Another example, there are now several different technologies, most notably diluted hydrogen peroxide, that can be installed in buildings to automatically continuously destroy bacterial and viral traces on surfaces, and also deactivate viruses in the air. Just what we need. Yet in the CDC guidelines there is no discussion of them.
In fact, these technologies can be installed in HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) systems. They are non‑toxic. They can work automatically and continuously. They are already in use by major commercial places such as Walmart, Pepsi bottling plants, computer companies that need clean rooms to construct computers. They all know about this.
We should be using these technologies to make returning to the workplace and reopening schools faster and much safer.
The CDC also did not mention anything about public restrooms. As we know, as Grand Central Station opens up, as all kinds of office buildings, arenas, as everything opens up, people will be using public restrooms. If you go into public restrooms, you will notice, just like in hospitals, the toilets usually do not have lids.
We know that this virus, like many hospital pathogens, such as C. diff, is found in fecal matter. When the toilet flushes, a plume of aerosol is emitted. That can take traces of the virus into the air. Studies have shown that China have already shown that public restrooms are one of the places you are most apt to find a heavy trace of this virus.
Right away, as we are reopening, there are different devices available, but the simplest solution is to put a lid on each of those toilets and a sign, "Please close the lid before flushing." People turn around and flush, and they are literally facing that toilet as the plume is emitted. Please keep that in mind.
I want to go on to two other things. One is the danger that we are losing respect for science. It is because we have seen our scientists get too involved in politics.
A perfect example is the public health officials and so‑called experts who have weighed in on the coronavirus. They have weighed in mostly on the side of the most rigid lockdowns, failing to consider, as mentioned, the deadly economic impact.
One reason, of course, is that almost all of these scientists and experts kept getting their paychecks. They work for government or universities. But there is another one. That is: they have a mindset that pays no attention to the value of economic activity.
When it was a choice of a severe lockdown no matter that it put 40 million people out of work and caused so many bankruptcies, they went for the lockdown. But then, when it became a matter of protesting police brutality, it was a totally different matter. In their view, that issue justified dispensing with the lockdown
Suddenly, it was fine to fill the streets with protestors shouting, some of them even without masks on. That is when the mantle of science was ripped off these ideologues. Suddenly, these scientists who posed only as scientists were exposed for what they really were, left‑wing ideologues as well.
Another really tragic example, is the two articles that came out in Lancet and The New England Journal of Medicine a few weeks ago, attempting to debunk the use of hydroxychloroquine.
They wanted to discredit President Trump because it is among his favorite drugs, but they ended up making fools of themselves because they put aside their usually rigorous standards of peer review and data examination and published two garbage articles with bogus data in order to accomplish a political goal.
This is a lesson for us, that we must insist when these public health officials or experts present their models of future mortality from a virus, we say, "OK, thank you very much for presenting this to us," but we are not just going to let science dictate what we shall do. We are going to look at all the repercussions, the collateral damage independent of your advice. That is a big lesson from this shutdown.
I also wanted to talk with you a bit about the collaboration or collusion between the Chinese and many prestigious academic officials in the United States to hide the origins of the coronavirus.
We know that China is determined to conceal what actually happened. A few weeks ago, when Australia proposed an independent investigation by the World Health Organization, China slapped an 80% tariff on Australian barley, restrictions on Australian beef, and more import restrictions would follow.
Obviously, all the other countries saw what was going on. They were cowed by China's economic bullying. The World Health Assembly, which is the legislative body in the World Health Organization, voted for an investigation of how the world has responded to the pandemic, not how it began.
It is unfortunate because so many scientists in Europe and the US are uncovering eye‑opening information. It is pouring in now. It is already obvious that the virus was circulating for many months before what the Chinese claim was, the emergence of this virus in Wuhan in a seafood market in December.
We have information from Cambridge University researchers showing that there were three strains of this virus circulating in China. We shall call them Strains A, B, and C, as the researchers do. One strain ended up particularly in the Eastern US and Europe. One strain seemed to be the predominant one in Wuhan. Another strain went on to Hong Kong and some other East Asian countries. These strains differ. I'm going to get back to them in a moment because we can see that the strain that is predominant in the Eastern US and Europe seems to be mutating to increase its contagiousness -- a big problem for us.
The Broad Institute, which is affiliated with Harvard and MIT, just released information that by the time this virus reached Wuhan, it was already capable of infecting humans.
In other words, the Chinese argued that it began in the Wuhan seafood market when the virus was in animals -- wild animals, bats, or pangolins -- and then jumped to a human being. No. We already know that that the virus circulating in southern China was capable of infecting humans before that.
Finally, a group of scientists at Harvard and Boston University have looked at aerial photos of Wuhan, beginning in August of 2019, and seen that by September and October, the hospital parking lots were crowded with cars, indicating that there was a surge of some disease in Wuhan before this December pandemic that the Chinese government reported.
They also did searches in the Chinese equivalent of Google and found people in those early months searching the terms diarrhea and cough. While we cannot conclude definitively that it was COVID‑19, it appears that China was having a major problem with the disease several months before they admitted they were.
Here is the most interesting. Three vaccine developers from Britain and Norway report that they see in the genetic makeup of this virus a segment that controls its contagiousness to human beings, a segment that they believe was lab engineered rather than evolving in nature.
As soon as they proposed this, a bevy of prestigious American scientists from the University of Chicago, Emory University, next door to the CDC, and others, were outraged and signed an open letter in the journal Lancet declaring their solidarity with the Chinese scientists, health researchers, and the World Health Organization against people who might be investigating other sources of COVID‑19 that diverge from the Chinese official story.
Can you imagine? There they are trying to censor the research. They are claiming it is a conspiracy theory. ABC News comes on and says it has been debunked. It has not been debunked. I am not saying it is true, but I am saying, at this point, what we need to battle this virus is the truth, not censored research. Scientists need to be scientists. They do not need to be censoring politicians.
Question and Answer
Question: Could take a few minutes, please, to speak about your new book, "The Next Pandemic"?
McCaughey: It is out from Encounter Books. It is really quite short, more like a broadside. I list a lot of these new technologies that should be employed to make our workplaces, schools, and mass transit safer.
I'm working on a bigger book, but I wanted to get something out right away that would feature the work the president and his administration are already doing, looking ahead to the next pandemic, and really encouraging everyone to look ahead.
There are so many practical steps we can take, some of which we are already taking, so that the next deadly virus or germ attack will not destroy our economy, will not cause so much hardship, 40 million without jobs, and many others losing their businesses, and all the collateral health effects of those economic losses.
Question: Behind the issue of naming the virus is the larger fact that China has been the source of a succession of pandemics dating back over the past two decades. There is no evidence that this is going to be the last. Do we need to create a specific ongoing investigative discipline focusing on China's continuing potential to introduce these pandemic eruptions in the West?
McCaughey: Oh, yes. I am particularly concerned about China's irresponsibility. For example, they covered up SARS 15 years ago. Exactly the same script that they are pursuing now. Lie, lie, lie. Cover up, cover up, cover up.
I would say focus on China, but there are other actors out there, not all of them state actors. We have to have a defense that is capable of protecting us from any of these malign actors without dismissing the fact that China is the biggest malign actor.
One of the investments the US must make is in surveillance technology. What do I mean by that?
The United States have inadequate public lab technology. We spent, by the way, almost $5 billion in Africa, and a lot of it was building lab capacity there to identify the resurgence of Ebola or other diseases. A lot of money should have been spent here so that our local and county health laboratories are capable of testing for things. Not for COVID‑19. That was a different issue.
Surveillance technology means that when people go into the hospital and get a routine blood test and it goes to a lab, in addition, the lab will sample some of these blood tests to identify if there is anything strange going on, anything we have not seen before, anything that is popping up in one part of the country or another.
Surveillance laboratory technology enables us to identify a virus, germ warfare, or just a health problem in society before people start rushing to the emergency room with it. We need that. It is an important tool that we need.
Question: As we are now going to an opening up of the lockdown, I have personal knowledge of people who had COVID, recovered, were given the all clear, the swab test, the antibody test, everything.
Then a month later or two months later, they go for another swab test and it is positive, they have COVID. Where does this end, and how can we get people back?
McCaughey: These tests are not perfect, believe me. That is why if you are an age category or high‑risk category because of previous illness, you really simply have to stay home. I do not want to sound like an alarmist because I think it is time now to open up. Most working age people and young people can safely go out and work. If they get this virus, it will mean a few days home sick. It will not kill them.
When you look at the mortality data, all of it is way up at the advanced age range. People who are younger should feel free to go out, and not rely on these tests. Twenty percent of those tests you take to see whether you have the COVID virus are inaccurate. If you get infected, you have to wait five days before the test is reasonably accurate. Even then, about 20% of the time, it is not.
Question: There has been controversy about whether masks are really effective or not....
McCaughey: Now that we looked at data from Singapore, from Hong Kong, masks, if they are universally worn, are highly effective in preventing the spread. The point is that the mask protects not the wearer but the person close by.
Unfortunately, our politicians have misled us so much about masks. First, the CDC said no masks. They were just covering their own butts because the stockpile was out of masks. It was unconscionable what they did.
Secondly, you see somebody like Bill de Blasio wearing that bandana across his face. It may be the latest fashion message, looks pretty good. I think Chris Cuomo did the same thing. But that cloth mask, that cloth barrier is only about 3% effective in protecting the wearer.
A hospital mask, the kind that has the strings on the end that you tie across your mouth and nose, that's about 53% effective in keeping viral droplets out and protecting the wearer. The N95 mask, which is molded with the elastics, is, as the name suggests, 95% effective.
Do not be misled by these fashion statements, wearing a neckerchief. You are not protecting yourself at all.
Question: The Chinese quarantine, Wuhan, had barred domestic air travel to and from it, but they permitted international air travel from Wuhan to Italy, Europe, and to the USA. Do you believe this was a deliberate move to spread the virus to other countries?
McCaughey: It is almost impossible to deny that there was an insidious aspect to that decision. They should have locked down all air travel, but they did not. We know that, for example, many Chinese people who had returned home to the Wuhan area for the holidays came back into the Lombardy area of Italy. They were leather workers primarily. That was one of the most seriously hit areas of Europe.
Question: What do you make of the current outbreak of coronavirus in Beijing? Is it likely bigger than they are saying? Do the reports sound accurate at all?
McCaughey: I do not trust any of the numbers from Beijing. I would not be confused by the discussion of the Beijing market. First of all, it is not an animal market. It is a vegetable market. They are trying to pin this on imports from other countries. I really do not give any credibility at all to what I read because the Chinese have lied at every turn.
As I wrote for "The Post," if you listen to the internal recordings at World Health Organization administrative meetings, the World Health Organization while they were publicly applauding the Chinese for the transparency, for example, on January 31st, were behind closed doors lamenting the fact that the Chinese wouldn't tell them anything.
Question: Could China's measures double as a practice run against blowback if China engages in bio-warfare or does this again at a far more deadly way? Also, what do we do about the CDC?
McCaughey: Let me start with the CDC. I have been very discouraged about the performance of the CDC. It is not a reflection on our current president. The same people have been running the CDC for years and years and years. The CDC has failed the nation on this and so many other issues. It is the center for confusion and the disbursement of cash to foreign countries. That is what those initials CDC really stand for ‑‑ center for confusion and the disbursement of cash to foreign countries.
Year after year, they have put their favorite global projects ahead of preparing state and local health departments in the US. Year after year, we have come short because of it. Whether it was Zika, or Ebola, or SARS, or H1N1, always unprepared while billions of dollars were sent overseas.
I hear former CDC director, Tom Frieden recommending again for global solidarity and sharing our wealth with other countries. Not until the US is adequately prepared itself. We must stop listening to these globalists and get our own country ready.
The CDC needs new leadership. They also need to shed their extraordinarily damaging bias against industry. That is why testing was such a mess. There was no reason they had to develop their own test any more than the United States agencies have to build their own automobiles. The commercial sector does just a fine job.
There is no telling what China is aiming for. I think we have to recognize, as our current president does, that China is an enemy. His rigorous efforts, after so many years of delay, to finally begin building a domestic medical supply chain is so important for that reason.
Imagine all these years, we have depended on China for antibiotics, for example. How can we go to war with a country that can simply shut off our source of antibiotics and allow our own warriors to die on the battlefield?
Question: You were going to talk more about the three strains of the virus. Please elaborate?
McCaughey: This is a really interesting finding. I want to salute these scientists who were undeterred by the political correctness of the noisy ones and are just pursuing real science.
One investigator, his name is Peter Forester, from the University of Cambridge, he discovered three strains of this virus ‑‑ A, B, and C ‑‑ circulating in Southern China last summer. He said A later went on, it appears, to infect Americans and Europeans. B ended up in Wuhan. C went to Hong Kong and other places in Asia.
Now I just read more research from Scripps, because this research builds on the preceding one, pointing out that the variant of the coronavirus that is impacting the Eastern United States and parts of Europe is now mutating to be more contagious. It is very important, as we are developing vaccines even, to recognize these separate strains.
One of the reasons I was particularly concerned about all the censorship of this research is -- as the Norwegian and British virologists pointed out -- how are we going to build a vaccine if we refuse to recognize that one element of this virus may be genetically manufactured?
Question: Given your point about our lack of preparedness, should pandemic preparedness be moved under the auspices of the Pentagon or should the Pentagon be given a bigger preparedness role?
McCaughey: I do not really have an answer to that question. I am not sure how big their role is now. Certainly, preparedness should not be under the CDC. They have flunked the test year after year. The CDC health bureaucrats get an F on preparedness. Some other agency of the federal government needs to do it.
Again, I have to say it is the president who has been very dynamic on this issue. Never mind the career bureaucrats in any of these agencies. He is the one who went to Virginia himself and made sure that we started contracts to build a domestic supply chain.
The above are from a briefing to Gatestone Institute on June 16, 2020.
Betsy McCaughey is chairman of the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths and a former lieutenant governor of New York. Contact her at email@example.com.