WIRED  |  January 22, 2021

“It was a catastrophic failure,” says Larry Gostin, director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University, a failure driven in large part by pandemic denial. “We should have jumped on it fast and hard and never let go, like so many other countries did successfully. But we refused to face the facts that were right in front of us. The reality was right there on television—what happened in Wuhan, and then this huge wave going across the ocean to Europe. We just didn’t pay attention.”

All the things Gostin says the US should have done a year ago—to massively ramp up testing capacity, hire scores of contact tracers, help people isolate themselves if they’d been exposed—are exactly what the Joe Biden–Kamala Harris administration proposed this week. The only thing that’s different is that now there are vaccines. “The rest of the playbook is the same,” says Gostin. “If we’d had that available even as early as March, we could have literally avoided hundreds of thousands of deaths.”

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