When Robert Kim-Farley heard that COVID-19 had reached the United States, on Jan. 20, 2020, he immediately recalled the grim images from China that he had been seeing online, with people dying in the streets outside of overwhelmed hospitals.
“The pandemic has reached us, and it’s going to be bad,” the UCLA epidemiologist thought.
With the U.S. reaching the second anniversary of that first U.S. case, Kim-Farley has been reflecting on what the scientific community got right during the medical crisis, and what it could have done better.
On a scale of 1 to 10, he said he’d give the U.S. a 7 for how local, state and federal agencies have handled the pandemic.
“We might have scored higher and saved more lives if our leaderships had taken advantage of the opportunity to be more bipartisan and united, recognizing that one administration helped develop the vaccine and its successor is now distributing it,” he said. “But we could not have hit 10 out of 10, like China did, in actually suppressing viral transmission because our society would not tolerate the extreme measures of forced isolation, forced quarantine, forced testing and closing down cities.”
Vaccines didn’t pop out of nowhere
Even before COVID-19 appeared, Kim-Farley, who has appointments in the epidemiology and community health sciences at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, had been thinking about the macro approaches and practical tools required for dealing with global health crises: For the past five years, he has been working on a textbook that lays out what needs to go right to prevent the outbreak of a disease from metastasizing into a pandemic.
The textbook, which he co-edited with Tanya Telfair LeBlanc, was published in December.