“We have it totally under control.”

“It’s going to be just fine.”

Those were the words of US president Donald Trump when he recently weighed in on news of the potential spread of the new coronavirus, dubbed the 2019-novel coronavirus, or 2019-nCoV, to the United States.

He’s wrong. It’s true, we’re not defenseless in the face of this disease. But we are unprepared.

Wuhan, the capital of China’s Hubei province where the coronavirus has broken out, is a major transportation hub. The city is larger than New York in both population and size. I was in Wuhan recently chairing the US-China Health Summit. I can assure you that in the US we are, like those in Wuhan were, woefully unprepared.

I’ve led research teams assembled in the wake of two previous US public-health crises: the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and the 2001 anthrax attacks. In both instances, lives were lost due to our inability to coordinate and execute a proactive response. It’s baffling to see that the US might fail, once again, to learn from the past.

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Originally published on Quartz (January 30, 2020)