Pandemic scholars had warned U.S ill-prepared for COVID-19

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COLLEGE STATION, Texas — The lead researchers of the Texas A&M Pandemic and Biosecurity Policy Program see themselves as scholars — not soothsayers.

But for years Dr. Gerald Parker and Dr. Christine Blackburn had warned officials in Washington D.C. about the need to better prepare for the next pandemic. They emphasized the urgency for strong, centralized U.S. leadership — both for this nation and for the world. They also warned of the nation’s vulnerable manufacturing chain of medical supplies stretching across the globe, even citing N95 masks made in China as an example.

“Four or five things keep bubbling up after every outbreak,” Dr. Parker said. “They include leadership, coordination, collaboration, communication, and innovation, and that we weren’t good enough in all of those categories.”

Dr. Blackburn was the lead author of an Aug. 20, 2018 article in The Conversation, “Three reasons the U.S. is not ready for the next pandemic.”

“This interconnectedness of the global economy,” the article said, “and the expansiveness of the medical supply chains means that a disruption anywhere along the line could spell disaster worldwide.”

“You were prophetic,” John Sharp, Chancellor of The Texas A&M University System, told the researchers during an exclusive interview. “If everybody had listened to you, we wouldn’t be in quite the mess we are in right now.”

Sharp interviewed Dr. Parker and Dr. Blackburn about the unlearned lessons of past infectious disease outbreaks and the lessons that need to be learned from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We really need to greatly expand our testing capabilities,” Dr. Parker told Sharp. “That’s going to be key to us being able to lift the social distancing measures and help us return to normalcy.”

This is the second in a special series of television shows called, “COVID-19: The Texas A&M System Responds.” Chancellor Sharp is interviewing scientists, researchers and other leading experts who are helping Texas and the nation fight the pandemic in a variety of ways.

Dr. Parker is director and Dr. Blackburn is deputy director of the Pandemic and Biosecurity Policy Program at the Scowcroft Institute for International Affairs, which is part of the Bush School of Government and Public Service. Dr. Parker also advises Gov. Greg Abbott and his cabinet on the state’s COVID-19 response.

The interview will air 7 p.m. Thursday on KAMU-TV in College Station and on other Texas public television affiliates. (Check your local listings in Austin, Dallas, Waco and Amarillo.) It also will be available on the System’s YouTube channel:

Other upcoming episodes will include a leading virus fighter, experts on the economic crisis and Chief Nim Kidd, the head of the Texas Division of Emergency Management and vice chancellor for Disaster and Emergency Services at the Texas A&M System.