Former FDA Second-in-Command & COO and Harvard Faculty Member Dr. John Norris Speaks: It is A Race Against Time: Again, We Are Not Prepared for the Coming Catastrophe

06-21-23. America (and most other countries worldwide), including its government and prominent quasi-government and private institutions, companies, and the like, got caught off guard when COVID-19 struck out of the blue three years ago. It was a sneak attack by nature or by humans. In either case, the lack of preparedness was astounding.

Today, thanks to government or commercial aircraft, an outbreak in any location can shift to anywhere in the world in just 24 hours, and often far less. The bubonic plague killed half the world’s population and took years to spread. Today, not camels but airplanes are the vehicle of choice.

Like the attack on Pearl Harbor, but far more sophisticated (infectious diseases are the ultimate stealth weapon) and devastating, the COVID-19 attack killed over a million Americans, not just the roughly two-thousand Americans who regrettably died at Pearl Harbor. Yet the Pearl Harbor attack created dozens of times more shock, fear, and disdain for the lack of unpreparedness by America’s government and business leaders.

For the unpreparedness at Pearl Harbor, admirals, generals, and even the President were viciously attacked by public opinion. Yet, when the devastation was 500 times greater this time, few government officials or corporate officers were attacked, lost their jobs, or worse, punished. And there is almost no lasting leader concern or public fear regarding COVID- 19 or the next pandemic. We have washed our hands of it. It never really happened.

And it never will happen again, at least in our lifetimes. Wrong!

So why the difference? I very much would like to know why.

Like in the case of my public calls for academic studies to identify (1) the precise source(s) and, if human, the intent of the worldwide spread of COVID-19 and (2) the reasons for the poor management of its transmission, I now call for academic studies of

(3) “why” we were so vastly unprepared? What was America’s intent, and, more particularly, what was the intent of America’s leaders when preparation, execution, and communication were continuously so wrong or inadequate?

Why were they so unprepared? At every stage, before, during, and after. And why did we not demand far better, then? And now? Instead, we forgot or put our heads in the sand and pretend there is no ongoing risk regarding COVID-variants or other pandemic-scale diseases that are just around the corner. Why? What is the mass psychology involved? What can we do without using unfair scare tactics to wake our leaders and the public to the significant ongoing dangers?

Here are a few specific questions I would immediately research using psychological, socioeconomic, and political science methods, among other scientific methods:

  • Was it that there were other more critical demands on scarce funding (which I doubt, but we will see)?
  • Was it ignorance of the magnitude of the risks (almost certainly)?
  • Was it all government or business politics (isn’t it almost always; the squeaky wheel gets the grease)?
  • Was it the lack of scientific warning of the risks and critical dangers of being unprepared (likely)?
  • Was it hubris that our continued reliance mostly on 1918 strategies and methods would be enough (almost certainly)?

6) Was it a belief that this could never (or at least while the leader now or in the future was still an incumbent in their leadership post) happen and, therefore, preparedness now would be a waste of time, money, and political capital for them (has it been ever thus)?

Others may ask more, different, or more profound questions. But you get the point. We need to know at least the basics of what is going on. We can all sense

the significant ongoing danger, but we choose to ignore it, perhaps out of acclimation to or exhaustion from this source of fear.

In the meantime, let me share my threshold thoughts. I am prepared (eager, really) to significantly adjust or refine this thinking once scientists complete the studies. But let me attempt to enhance America’s leader’s frame of reference now to stimulate the beginning directly of a (1) robust “Preparedness Campaign” and associated (2) “Strategic Action Plan” containing well-planned actions leading to (3) timely and aggressively executed critically needed robust counter-measures and preventive or mitigative actions.

Together, these are immediately and desperately needed. We can’t wait until another million Americans die before we act this time. But who is sounding the alarm? Am I alone? Why aren’t you, at least within your organization, so you help protect yourself and your family and coworkers and their families and preserve your jobs and job satisfaction?

Sadly, unlike the 420k Americans who died in WWII, you will find no monument to the million-plus Americans who died during the COVID-19 war over the past three years. Nor, unlike the 58k Vietnam War casualties, will you find a list of their names carved in granite. In this COVID-19 war, three to 20 times more Americans were killed (and even far more were significantly injured).

But they are already long ago buried, and even more sadly, we have long forgotten them. You could ask 100 people who it was that died. Most of the 100 would not know the name of one.

These victims of the war have no presence in America’s “current Psyche.” And the same is true for the global psyche. If visible weapons didn’t kill them and weren’t people “who mattered,” we could easily forget them. They just disappeared.

We likely will find that most of the deaths were among three groups of Americans. Those who were: (1) financially disadvantaged or genetically at higher risk, (2) placed in poorly run nursing homes (improperly run either directly by their CEO or indirectly by federal or state government mandate), and (3) low-paid, high-risk front-line employees (many of them Black or Hispanic) working in cramped and otherwise highly disease- exposed workplaces and high-risk jobs.

Why are they so quickly forgotten? My belief: Very few people cared sufficiently about them to protect them before or after an outbreak. They were largely discardable both by the press and by the public. And leaders’ political or financial liability risk for discarding them was small. (Perhaps the courts and public opinion are now catching up in the case of some business leaders. But it is politics as usual for most government leaders.)

But precisely because “important” groups were not killed, the most massive and deadly

pandemic since the 1918 Flu Pandemic did not teach us much. If we, financially sound, well-placed individuals, and our families weren’t at high risk of dying, we cared little to none about the pace and scale at which other, less fortunate, people were dying. And accordingly, from this potentially vast lesson, we learned little.

We wore masks and got vaccinated and boosted. But cared little more. Our ordinary wartime will and even passion for protecting others, and even sacrificing ourselves to do so, was never ignited. We selfishly looked the other way. Over a million Americans died in the biggest war in our history, nearly twice as many Americans than died in the 1918 Flu Pandemic, but we didn’t care. Will we watch when the next million die? Ten million? One-hundred million?

There is no sign yet that we will. America’s leaders, influencers, or even our otherwise cautious public are now all but blind to the scale of the past and future risks. If you go to a conference or theatre, there are no masks for the past. And no concerns about the future. Ask a hundred attendees. You get the same blank stare.

Next time, the pandemic might or will (my guess: “will”) also include three “more prominent” groups, groups that Americans (including especially our leaders and their families themselves, but also most of us) do not consider to be discardable.

They (and we) care very much about the following:

  • children (who are also often the biggest spreaders of disease, so vice versa),
  • higher-paid workers housed in larger, more spread out, better-ventilated, and otherwise better-protected workplaces, and
  • spouses and coworkers who are at risk that we will kill them when we take the disease home, or vice versa. Especially spouses.

The bubonic plague of the Middle Ages killed kings and masters as well as millions of workers and paupers. It did not discriminate. Can we focus now on the more significant threat without abandoning other great threats—to benefit “All”?

It is not that nuclear threats are not significant. Biological risks are more considerable when we define these risks as “the projected scale of human harm plus the scale of structural damage plus the likely change in governance times the projected probability of their occurring.” And they are more powerful.

A “sneak attack” using a biological weapon is not only more effective. It is also far safer and more profitable for the attacking hostile nation.

“Safer” for the attacker because the source (and obvious intent) of the nuclear attack can be discovered in minutes, not weeks or months, or even years, and therefore

massive retaliation is a real counter-threat. Years after the COVID-19 attack, we still do not know if the source was nature or, if not, if the attack was intentional or unintentional. I suspect the latter. But we do not know. And that is the point.

Accordingly, in the COVID-19 case (and probably in most cases), the “retaliation threat” was and is still worthless. China, and all of America’s other most significant enemies, including Iran, North Korea, and Russia, knew and continue to know it.

Our national security and defense are at far greater risk if we do not know the answer to this critical question. But who, with the needed skills and funding to answer the question, is working to answer the query authoritatively? Why do top funders and scientists peek at the question and quickly withdraw because they smell “professional kryptonite.”

“More profitable” to an attacking nation intending to occupy the US after the attack because, unlike bio attacks, nuclear attacks destroy homes, buildings, and other critical infrastructure.

I am confident that most hostile nation attacks are related to protecting their resources (preemptive) or obtaining coveted resources from others (aggressive). They are not about anger, although they appear to be. They are about herd instincts built into our DNA over thousands of years when having sufficient resources was the difference between living or dying of starvation.

This “counter-productive action” finding was a lesson profoundly learned from WWII when America decided to spend a fortune rebuilding many parts of Europe and Asia. This expenditure was essential money we might otherwise have spent on eliminating or reducing America’s poverty and healthcare disparities.

I am not saying we wasted most of that money through excessive bombing (1,700 cities, both large and small, and in Hiroshima alone, 90k buildings were destroyed). I am saying that if we had not bombed cities to such an extent, we might have reduced reconstruction expenses, allowing us to do more domestically. Hostile nations have learned the same lesson from America’s mistake.

Yet, still, there is no profoundly ingrained lesson learned: mitigating the risk of “biological spread” needs far more attention, research, and funding. This wholesale lack of protective insight is insane. For our government leaders, this is insane. Even for our business leaders, this is insane.

When the next pandemic hits, which almost certainly will happen soon, America’s leaders and their families (themselves) will be significantly exposed to transmission and loss of jobs (if they are or plan to be in office then). And this time, the disease will kill or significantly harm perhaps hundreds of thousands of government and business leaders

and their families. This time, it is unlikely to kill or harm substantially only the “discardable.”

And for those government and business leaders who were able yet unprepared to prevent this devastation and who survived, they will and rightly should be punished.

America’s leaders beware. Preparedness now is critical. If you look down the tunnel we call the future, the light at the end of the tunnel really is a speeding locomotive bearing down on you. Prepare and get ready now. Or die. Those are your choices.

Best, John

Dr. John Norris, JD, MBA Founder and Executive Chairman Safely2Propserity LLC

Website: 617-680-3127

About Safely2Prosperity LLC

Safely2Prosperity LLC is a leading company based in the US (Boston). It provides innovative solutions to selected countries, government agencies, companies, and other organizations, such as call centers, hospitals, and schools/universities, among others, for next-generation infectious disease spread and other workplace disease risk management. Its often life-saving cloud-based Software-as-a-Service (“SaaS”) tools help its customers with preparedness, oversight, prevention, mitigation, control, and permanent record-keeping functions, among others. S2P helps companies to stay highly productive and to defend legal or regulatory actions against them vigorously. At the same time, S2P helps companies to prevent significant harm to workers and their families.

The Founder and Executive Chairman, Dr. John Norris, is a world-renowned thought leader in health and healthcare risk management, a former Principal Deputy Commissioner and COO of the US FDA, and a former Harvard faculty member. Safety2Prosperity’s CEO and CTO is former Lockheed Martin senior executive Dr. Haden Land. S2P has created a set of IT-based “Software-as-a-Service” platforms that help enable enterprises to manage their COVID-19 and other infectious disease transmission prevention and mitigation Safety Programs and soon safety programs for other workplace diseases such as certain cancers and heart, lung, and kidney diseases. The S2P IT Dashboards include trends, alarms (immediate), alerts (soon), predictive analytics, contact tracing, infected-employee isolation control, and exposed-

employee quarantine management. In addition, S2P’s “Continual Enterprise Portal” offers a health and wellness IT hub designed to provide continuously updated resources and   a   platform   for   enterprise   engagement.   And   S2P   provides a “Safety Standard” for enterprises to work towards always. Experts widely expect that by the end of this decade, company-sponsored workplace “Infectious Disease (and other diseases, such as workplace chemically-caused diseases) Safety Programs” will be as ubiquitous worldwide as workplace “Fire Safety Programs” are today.


© 2023 Safely2Prosperity LLC and Dr. John Norris, JD, MBA. All rights reserved.

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