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Six months of coronavirus: Here are some of our findings

The United States knows how to wage war. But as the past few months have shown, the American response to pathogens can easily become a mess – even though pathogens kill more Americans than many wars.

We don’t have a viral Pentagon. The disease control and prevention centers are more of an F.B.I. for outbreak investigations as a war machine. For years – under both the Obama and Trump administrations – their leaders have had to get approval for almost every statement.

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the most prominent of the physicians advising the Coronavirus Task Force, is actually the head of a research institute, the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and not the medical equivalent of a battalion.

The general surgeon is essentially an admiral with no crew. He issues health warnings and recommendations, but the Public Health Services Commissioned Corps he reports is only about 6,500 strong, and many members have other jobs, often at the C.D.C.

Almost all frontline troops – the contact tracers, the laboratory technicians, the epidemiologists, the employees in state and city hospitals – are paid by state and local health authorities, whose budgets have shrunk for years. These soldiers are led by 50 commanders in the form of governors, and with so many leaders in charge, it’s surprising that every response is progressing.

The rest of the answer lies in the hands of thousands of private militias – hospitals, insurers, doctors, nurses, respiratory technicians, pharmacists, etc., all of whom have individual employers. You can do what you want within limits. If they cannot get what they need from overseas, they are largely powerless without logistical help from the federal government.

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