Watch “COVID WAR: The Pandemic Doctors Are Speaking” on Sunday, March 28th at 9pm on CNN only.
Within a few weeks, our team in Houston, Washington, DC and Baltimore secured nondescript, large hotel ballrooms with plenty of space and ventilation, so that these extraordinary one-on-one meetings with Dr. Deborah Birx could take place Anthony Fauci, Brett Giroir, Stephen Hahn, Robert Kadlec and Robert Redfield.
Given our common medical background, I explained to each of the doctors that I would organize the discussions in a way that would be difficult but familiar: an autopsy.
We wanted to meticulously dissect and discuss how the United States became home to the worst Covid-19 outbreak on the planet.
Here, too, doctors agreed – while Covid-19 is a serious illness, the vast majority of deaths in the United States could have been avoided.
Most of the doctors I’ve interviewed are household names these days, but you’ve probably only heard them on Soundbites or seen them briefly at the lectern in the White House briefing room. All but one of the doctors are private now, unbridled and unbridled by the watchful eyes of the White House, and they had much to say. Our cathartic and frank discussions lasted hours, covered a wide range of topics, and were at times terrible in what they revealed.
The first cut
On a snowy February day in Baltimore, when I met Dr. When Robert Redfield met, his mood was both thoughtful and determined. Redfield, a trained virologist, was hired by President Donald Trump to head the CDC back in 2018 after a long career in the public health field. Prior to the pandemic, the new director had mainly focused on two other epidemics: opioids and HIV / AIDS. Alongside his colleagues Fauci and Birx, Redfield has been known for decades for his work as one of the world’s leading AIDS researchers.
While every doctor had deep suspicions about the information originally coming from China, Redfield was the loudest about it. He believes the current pandemic in Wuhan began as a local outbreak in September or October 2019 – much earlier than the official schedule – and then spread to all provinces in China over the next few months. The United States was only officially informed of the “mysterious group of pneumonia patients” on December 31, 2019. These were critical weeks and months that countries around the world could have prepared.
“So they had a lead of 30 days,” Kadlec confirmed days before I sat down with Redfield.
Kadlec was the HHS Deputy Secretary for Preparedness and Response, known as ASPR. “They bought things in the market long before we were,” he told me. “Even things made here in the US, we found that domestic shipments were drying up due to overseas purchases.”
And while the rest of the world has been told that the only initial Covid-19 cases in China came from a wet market in Wuhan, Redfield is confident that the evidence suggests that it simply did not. According to Redfield, even his Chinese CDC counterpart, Dr. George Gao, initially in the dark about the extent of the problem until early January. He described a private call he had with Gao in early January 2020 when Gao became disturbed and started crying after finding “many cases” among people who had not been in the wet market. Gao, says Redfield, concluded that the cat was out of the bag. ”
Initial death rates in China were somewhere between “5-10%,” Redfield told me. “I would probably cry too,” he added.
One of the most important things “that affected our success in this pandemic was that we weren’t allowed to go to China,” he told me earlier. Fauci repeated a similar feeling when I asked him about it.
“I think it would have made a significant difference,” said Fauci. “I think if we’d sent our people to Wuhan and had a conversation that lasted an hour with the Chinese scientists, you could have gotten so much information from the start. You would have told us, Don Believe not what you read. It spreads asymptomatically. It spreads very efficiently and kills people. “
Neither the calls from President Trump to President Xi Jinping nor the requests from Secretary Alex Azar to the Chinese Minister of Health could bring them, according to Redfield.
The question that arose from our autopsy was why?
The earliest symptoms
If US investigators had been admitted to China, they might have discovered something else as well: the origins of the virus. Where and how this outbreak began is not just an exercise of curiosity or an attempt to assign blame. Scientists and public health experts around the world must try to stop future pandemics.
So far, the official word was that this pandemic began when the novel coronavirus was introduced by an intermediate species or jumped straight from a bat to a human, which Redfield, the former head of the CDC, doesn’t see as “biological” meaning. ”
He reminded me that his career was spent as a virologist and said to me, “I don’t think that somehow this came from a bat to a human. And at that point the virus came to human and became one of the most contagious viruses, that we in humankind know for human-to-human transmission … It usually takes a while for a pathogen to figure out how to become more and more efficient when it passes from a zoonote to a human. ”
With no intention of assigning, Redfield told me he believed the origin of the pandemic was a laboratory in China that was already studying the virus and exposing it to human cell cultures.
“When most of us try to grow a virus in a lab, we try to make it grow better and better and better and better and better and better so we can do experiments and find out. That’s like me put together. ”
However, more than a year after the outbreak, a team of WHO scientists in Wuhan has still not been able to determine the ultimate origin of the virus. At this point, it’s not clear if they ever will.
In response to the Biden administration’s request for more transparency from China about data from the earliest days of the outbreak, China released a statement from its embassy in Washington claiming the United States “is now pointing fingers at other countries”. Meanwhile, Chinese officials and state media have increasingly promoted an unsubstantiated, so-called “multiple-origin” theory, suggesting that the pandemic may have started in various locations around the world, even in a US military laboratory.
Last cause of death
In nearly 20 hours of interviews, I asked every doctor the question that ends every autopsy. What do you think was the ultimate cause of death? What resulted in the preventable death of so many Americans?
From the role of leadership and the cost of being unprepared to citizens’ obligations to care for one another, Redfield and the Covid Doctors shared their painful lessons from the worst public health crisis of our lives.
Your answers offer an insightful and frightening glimpse into what exactly happened in the last year, as well as a plan for how to deal with the next.
“As bad as that was,” said Kadlec, “it could be worse. And there is guaranteed to be another pandemic.”
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