Premonition: How Dr. Charity Dean Saved Lives

By Shlomo Maital   

Dr. Charity Dean

     Michael Lewis has written several blockbuster investigative books.  His newest is The Premonition: A Pandemic Story.  And it has a hero:  Dr. Charity Dean.  Here is what Lewis told a CBS 60 Minutes interviewer named John Dickerson about an unsung hero, Dr. Charity Dean:   (I’ve kept this to 800 words…worth reading the whole transacript).

   “Lewis writes that at the beginning of the pandemic one of those people [who saw the pandemic unfolding, spreading, tragically] was Dr. Charity Dean, a disease control expert, and the assistant director of California’s Department of Public Health. In January of 2020, Dean was alarmed when she saw images circulating on social media that appeared to show Chinese authorities welding apartment doors shut to keep residents indoors. 

      Audio insert:  Dr. Charity Dean: And watching those videos on Twitter, ’cause I had no other source of information, I thought, ‘They know something we don’t and this is real.’

      “Dean’s hunch was that international travel into California’s major airports meant the virus was already circulating in her state. She guessed there might be 100 undetected cases of COVID-19. Dean did what she called “dirty math” on her whiteboard, plotting what the virus might do to California in the coming weeks.

      John Dickerson: So you’re doing the dirty math on the whiteboard and you step back and you think what?

Dr. Charity Dean: I thought, ‘Oh my God. I don’t believe this. It’s 20 million in May.’

   “Her projection of 20 million cases meant half of California’s population would be infected within four months unless officials intervened to slow the virus’s path.

       John Dickerson: What was the response when you told your bosses that?

     Dr. Charity Dean: Disbelief. Shock. And then irritation.

      John Dickerson: Why irritation?

    Dr. Charity Dean: Because I think it’s just really hard for the human brain to grasp the exponential growth of an existential threat.

      John Dickerson: They didn’t even let you use the word ‘pandemic’ when you wanted to, is that right?

     Dr. Charity Dean: I was asked to not say the word ‘pandemic’ because it might scare people. But I was scared.

   John Dickerson: And you thought people should be too? 

  Dr. Charity Dean: Absolutely.

     Michael Lewis: Charity, who thinks she’s all alone, all alone in the world, aware in January that this pandemic is gonna sweep through the United States and nobody’s doing anything about it, including her state government. And nobody will listen to her. And all of a sudden, she’s introduced to the Wolverines. When she finds these people, it’s, like, yeah, these are my people.

    John Dickerson: Who were the Wolverines?

     Michael Lewis: The Wolverines were a group of seven doctors, all of whom at one point or another had worked in the White House together, and who stayed in contact and kind of helped the country navigate various, various previous disease outbreaks. But they weren’t in the decision making apparatus in the U.S. government.

       John Dickerson: Why are they called the Wolverines?

   Michael Lewis: They’re called the Wolverines because a fellow White House employee dubbed them so. It had some obscure reference to the film “Red Dawn.”

     Michael Lewis: …where these group of high school kids named the Wolverines go up and try to defeat the invading Russians.

    John Dickerson: In other words, the Wolverines had to take things into their own hands ’cause there was nobody to stop the invading force.

Michael Lewis: That’s right. They were a guerilla disease fighting operation.

    John Dickerson: Because the people actually who were supposed to be fighting the disease weren’t doing it.

Michael Lewis: Weren’t doing it.

    President Trump on January 22, 2020: We have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.

    “In late January, as President Trump and the federal government publicly showed no urgency over the virus, Lewis writes that the Wolverines tried a work-around: getting the states to move. It’s why the Wolverines recruited Charity Dean, hoping if she could push California to act, the federal response might quicken.

    Michael Lewis: She asks one of them, ‘Who’s running the pandemic response?’ And one of them says, ‘Nobody’s running the pandemic response. But to the degree that anybody’s sort of running the pandemic response, we sort of are’

     John Dickerson: This is fantastical, I think, to most Americans. Which is, they think there is something called the Centers for Disease Control. And there are big buildings in Washington that have Health and Human Services. Why did the Wolverines have to do what there are huge institutions designed to do?

     Michael Lewis: That’s a great question (laughter). That’s a very good question, right?. In the first place, the Trump administration abdicated responsibility for running the for the federal government. He just walked away from that. He said, ‘Governors, you’re on your own.’

– – – – –

       Trump paid the price. He lost the election because of virus denial.  But so what!  590,000 people lost more than an election, they lost their lives.   When you politicize everything, including the Centers for Disease Control (CDC),  a public health agency, that’s what you end up with. 

        As Joan Baez sang:  When will we ever learn?