The next big plague is coming, and despite making progress on pandemic preparedness, the U.S. might still suffer mass casualties. Here’s why.
Ominous pathogens seem to arrive every few years: SARS in 2003, swine flu in 2009, Ebola in 2014, Zika in 2016, COVID-19 in 2019. The World Health Organization calls these viral threats “Disease X,” both to encourage policy makers to think broadly about what the next pandemic might be, and because it could be anything. At this rate, 2025 is not looking good.
After an inept coronavirus response, will the United States do better when the next pandemic strikes? Experts generally agree that America learned from the past year, and that the next public-health crisis won’t be quite as bewildering. But America’s pandemic preparedness still has major gaps, some of which are too big for any one administration to fix. In recent weeks, I’ve called back many of the experts I interviewed over the past 18 months about masks, testing, contact tracing, quarantine, and more. I asked them, “Are we ready for another one?” The short answer is “Not quite.” The long answer is that being truly “ready” will be harder than anyone realizes.