Author Archives: C. DAY

Antifragile Quality in Time of Crisis.

Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder

Bill Aulet, Director of the Martin Trust entrepreneurship program at MIT and a special “lean” professor (see Lean Entrepreneurship Guide (chart) for his Disciplined Entrepreneurship method) has started an EXCELLENT series of virtual (Zoom) broadcasts at his Entrepreneurship Speaker Series “Antifragile”.  “Today’s humanitarian and economic disaster has created an unimaginable shock to all; the future is nothing as it was imagined just weeks ago.  We teach our students to be antifragile—to not only survive in such a world, but to thrive in it. Ways they can get stronger in the face of adversity, incomplete information, time urgency, and dramatic outcomes. Our students figure out how to turn a negative into a positive.”  We share it here:

Living an Antifragile Life

Now that we have this knowledge, what should we do with it?

Life is messy and seemingly getting messier. Can we position ourselves to gain from this disorder … to not only recover from mistakes but get stronger?

The answer is yes. There are principles we can follow to help us.

Buster Benson has some excellent thoughts on how to live an antifragile life, giving us these core principles taken from the Antifragile book:

  • Stick to simple rules
  • Build in redundancy and layers (no single point of failure)
  • Resist the urge to suppress randomness
  • Make sure that you have your soul in the game
  • Experiment and tinker — take lots of small risks
  • Avoid risks that, if lost, would wipe you out completely
  • Don’t get consumed by data
  • Keep your options open
  • Focus more on avoiding things that don’t work than trying to find out what does work
  • Respect the old — look for habits and rules that have been around for a long time

In short, stop optimizing for today or tomorrow and start playing the long game. That means being less efficient in the short term but more effective in the long term. It’s easy to optimize for today, simply spend more money than you make or eat food that’s food designed in a lab to make you eat more and more. But if you play the long game you stop optimizing and start thinking ahead to the second-order consequences of your decisions.

It’s hard to play the long game when there is a visible negative as the first step. You have to be willing to look like an idiot in the short term to look like a genius in the long term. I believe that’s why so many people play the short game. But as the old adage goes, when you do what everyone else does, don’t be surprised when you get the same results everyone else does.

Here’s a link to the first interviews with Jocko Willink, famous Navy SEAL, and Billy Campbell, SC businessman who was on the”Miracle on the Hudson” US Air flight.  Each describes their own experience reacted to a crisis or danger and how best to handle yourself in similar situations:

(Click here to go to the Zoom recording)

Jocko tells us to step back, detach and prioritize steps then execute based on his experience in his first fire fight in Iraq. Billy had 55 seconds to contemplate his life before crash landing into the Hudson River that left him with these impressions -a conversation with God, exquisite memories, adjusting to an isle full of people, his belief in miracles, and as Clemson coach Dabo Swinney says, “bloom where you are planted”.  Well worth watching and learning the concept.


Startup Resources


VC-Backed Startups Will Be Eligible for the Coronavirus Stimulus Loans
This has caused a lot of confusion amongst the startup community over the past few days. The Paycheck Protection Program’s “affiliation rule” was thought to exclude small businesses and startups that count venture capitalists among their shareholders. But House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) joined the Axios Pro Rata podcast to discuss how that will be changing.

Emergency Funding Opportunity
Applications are open for Invest Atlanta’s Business Continuity Loan Fund. The fund offers zero-interest loans with payments deferred for 6 to 12 months to support Atlanta businesses affected by the COVID-19 economic disruption.

Review of the CARES Act – Live Stream Recording
Invest Atlanta hosted a Facebook Live in partnership with Technology Association of Georgia, ATDC, Atlanta Tech Village, Metro Atlanta Chamber, Silicon Valley Bank, ICBA, & Mailchimp for a review of the new CARES ACT Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), including what startups and small businesses should know and the actions they can take now.

CARES ACT Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Live Stream

Invest Atlanta, TAG, ATDC, ATV, and MACOC in partnership with Silicon Valley Bank, Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA), and Mailchimp invite startups in the city of Atlanta to join us Thursday, April 2nd @ 10:30 AM for a review of “What We Know Right Now” regarding the new CARES ACT Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).Presentation Slides:

Posted by Invest Atlanta on Thursday, April 2, 2020

Special Edition: The Deal Junkies Discuss COVID-19 and Market Conditions
This is a special edition of The Deal Junkies Podcast by Nelson Mullins. In this episode, hosts Rusty Fleming and Lee Hart discuss COVID-19 and the impact on credit markets, lenders, and borrowers.

Cursor over heading will take reader to website


Coronavirus Resources for Companies and Employees

The guide includes facts about COVID-19, information about the Florida Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan Program, information about a Small Business Association Economic Injury Disaster Loan, contact information for Manatee County and Florida agencies, information about Reemployment Assistance and more:

Department of Economic Opportunity releases COVID-19 Reemployment Assistance FAQs

How To Keep Your Company Alive – Observe, Orient, Decide and Act


By Steve Blank
Steve is considered  one of the fathers of modern entrepreneurship – is a serial entrepreneur-turned-best selling author and educator who has changed the way entrepreneurship plans startups.

This article previously appeared in the Harvard Business Review. It’s been updated with new information about the U.S. Paycheck Protection program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan progra

What cashflow-negative companies must do to survive

Companies that outlast this crisis will have CEOs who can rapidly assess these new circumstances, recognize new patterns and opportunities, and act with urgency to take immediate action to pivot and restructure their companies. Those that don’t may not survive.

So here’s a five-day playbook to help CEOs of cash-flow negative startups, or ones about to go negative, assess the new normal and respond with speed and urgency.

Your Company Survival Depends on A Simple Formula
Your company’s survival in this downturn can be captured in a simple formula.

Survival = (speed of your understanding of the situation) x (the magnitude of the pivots/cuts/lifeboat choices you make) x (the speed of your time to make those changes)

Notice that the word speed appears twice. This is not the time for committees, study groups or widespread consensus building. Even with imperfect information, the future of your company depends on your ability to make rapid decisions and start acting.

If you’re a CEO who can’t quickly bias yourself for action and if you wait around for someone to tell you what to do, then your investors, or more likely the market, will make those decisions for you.

Huge segments of the economy have shut down: travel, hospitality, restaurants. Any place with a fixed cost that relies on foot traffic will come under pressure. With millions of people out of work in the next quarter, it’s obvious that discretionary purchases like furniture, fashion, lifestyle will take a hit. But other businesses like law firms, contracting firms, real estate firms, will take hits, too. The ripple effects won’t be obvious at first. Your customers will no longer be your customers. Your revenue plans are no longer valid. To understand the state of things, you need to rapidly assess your internal and external environments going forward.

Day 1: Prepare An Assessment of the Internal and External Environment:
What did the external and internal environment look like for your company today? What do you believe the world will look like for each of the next five quarters? For companies burning cash, such as startups, how much cash do you have? What’s your monthly cash burn at your new low revenue level? How many months of cash do you have?  Cut costs to stay alive for 24 months.

External Assessment

  1. State of the economy
    • Unemployment %
    • Shelter in place yes/no?
  2. Health of Your Current Target Market(s)
    • Actively buying? Not returning calls? Out of business?
  3. Emergence of New Market(s)
    • Are there new opportunities?
  4. Forecasted recovery date
    • Workers can return
    • Your customers start buying
  5. Check if the the Paycheck Protection Program, (here and here) which provides 100% federally guaranteed loans to small businesses, can apply to your company. Also see if the the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program applies.
  6. If you were raising money, validate whether your investors are still on board – with the same terms – or at all

Internal Assessment

  1. Operating Numbers
    • Liquidity and likely cash-out date under your worst-case scenario
    • Accounts receivable, accounts payable
    • Sales pipeline/forecast
    • Marketing programs spending
    • Payroll costs/other variable costs
  2. Sources of additional capital – For existing companies: debt commitments, and new lenders. Can the Paycheck Protection Program, (here and here) be a source of capital?For startups: source of VC money?

Don’t overthink this. And most importantly do not outsource this to your staff. Set up a war room and work with your CFO and C-level staff together until it’s done. That will start to get your team aligned about the size of the problem. The CEO should dial through as many of the largest existing customers to get a firsthand understanding of the magnitude of any revenue shortfall. If you were expecting angel or venture funding get on the phone to your investor(s). Some VC’s are walking away from signed term sheets. Others are cutting their valuations. The CFO should be on the phone to sources of additional capital. There is no market research that’s going to get it “right.” No one can predict how this plays out and for how long. All we know is that it’s going to be very different than it was a few weeks ago and likely going to be worse a few weeks from now.

Day 2: Iterate the assessment with your investors/board
Whatever assessment you develop, you need to get feedback from your board and investors. While you’re seeing just your own company, hopefully they’re getting data from multiple companies across a wider set of industries. If you’re a startup you’ll also get a sense of how much of a nuclear winter the funding scene is for your market/company.

Boards need to insist on an immediate assessment and be actively engaged. I listened in on a board call with an enterprise software company this week, and when the CEO said, “Our VP of sales assured me our pipeline won’t be affected.” Board members gave her a wakeup call: there was either going to be a much more realistic assessment tomorrow based on her first-hand customer conversations, or a new CEO. Some CEOs can and will rise to the occasion by themselves but having a unified board can accelerate the process.

But what if you think the situation is more dire and you disagree with your board’s assessment? CEOs in this position are going to face a major career decision – go along with advice you think will damage/destroy the company – or put your job on the line. Remember, a year from now no one wants to be the CEO of a company out of business whose lament is, “I did what the board told me to do.”

Once you have agreed on what the world will look like, it’s time to build the plan for your new company. This plan has three parts: Pivots to your new business model, changes to your operating plan, and what initiatives you save for the recovery. The plan must also take into account that this crisis has exposed how vulnerable companies are to a single source of supply. CEOs of companies that manufacture goods in the U.S. are about to face a moral dilemma. China and South Korea are starting their factories up again. Going forward, do you move your supply chain from China or at least create a second source from other countries? Do you source/build things there while laying off people here? What does your board suggest? What do you think is the right thing to do?

Days 3 and 4: Prepare new business model and operating plan
First, think about potential pivots. Ask yourself: Are there now new customers, new services and new channels to pursue? Which parts of your business model can now serve the new normal where business is booming – remote work/education, social cohesion over distance, telemedicine, home delivery, etc.?

For example:

  • If you had brick and mortar locations, how much can you pivot to Ecommerce (for basics), so customers can acquire goods without having to leave the house? Can you also offer specialized services?
  • Automated delivery services – the more people you can take out of the equation, the safer the product. Are there parts of your supply chain that can be repurposed? What about parts of your manufacturing lines?
  • Online/Virtual learning – schools will need to embrace virtual learning in a way they haven’t before.
  • B2B – cloud services, online meetings, virtual workforce management, collaboration tools. With more work from home happening, all of these services will see increased demand from companies
  • Virtual Travel/Tourism – how can consumers get out without leaving the safety of their house?
  • Remote Workforce automation – past the obvious conferencing tools, how do you maintain cohesion and coordination?
  • Remote health care – Can you do initial triaging/diagnosis online before having a patient come in?
  • Personalized Video Entertainment – VOD, AVOD, Short Form Social Sites, Twitch, etc. …

Next, plot out the changes to your operating plan. What cuts will you make to spending programs – marketing, service, manufacturing, R&D? What are your “lifeboat choices” – what layoffs to make, renegotiate payables, rents, leases, how to trade off cash management versus revenue growth? How can you shift focus to customer retention versus acquisition?

As part of these operating changes, make sure your heads of HR and finance recognize that they have entirely new jobs.

Your CFO now becomes the head of cash management. Draw down all debt commitments. Ask existing and new lenders for additional funding. Call all large vendors and ask for lower prices. If appropriate, offer to sign a longer agreement in exchange for lower cash payments in 2020 and 2021. See if your fixed costs are really fixed, or will they agree to defer some for higher payments at a future date. Make sure your CFO is familiar with the Paycheck Protection Program, (here and here) as a potential source of cash and to avoid/defer layoffs.

Nothing is more important than assuring the company can continue to pay its employees.

Your head of HR is now head of layoffs. He or she has 48 hours to grow into it, or you need to find someone else from the ranks to do it. Before layoffs, cut all salaries by 20%. Cut CXO salaries by at least 30%. Award equity to employees equal to the value of their reduced salaries. Try to protect the most vulnerable employees. Letting people go needs to be done with compassion and adequate compensation. And if you do it correctly, it will hopefully be done just once.

For those remaining employees, offer remote therapy to deal with the stress of working from home and pay for any equipment/network upgrades.

As you make these plans, remember: There will be a morning after. What changes in your industry will be permanent? If you have sufficient cash reserves, what initiatives do you want to keep in the lifeboat that may give you the ability to take advantage of these changes? To recover and grow quickly? Or to launch new products? Or if you have sufficient cash, now is the time to hire great people who were never available.

Although you prepared the internal and external assessment with just your C-level staff, now you want to rapidly engage the collective intelligence/wisdom of the company. Ask everyone in the company to suggest changes to the business model, operating plan and recovery plan.Your employees likely have ideas and see opportunities not visible in the C-suite. This will signal to every employee that now is the time for all-hands-on-deck and that you will be making decisions to quickly separate the crucial from the irrelevant.

You need to communicate, communicate and communicate some more to your employees about why you’re asking for their ideas. This is the perfect time to start a daily update from the C-suite. This is critical if your employees are working remotely. Let them know what you’re learning and then when you begin implementing changes, tell them why.

Day 5: Iterate with investors/board
Whatever business model, operating plan and recovery plan you come up with, you need to get feedback from your board. Keep in mind they’re likely dealing with multiple companies rapidly replanning, so remind them about the assessments you mutually agreed on. Then walk them through why the changes you’re suggesting match that plan. They may have seen new ideas from other companies in their portfolio so be open to additional suggestions.

Beyond the five-day plan, I want to specifically address two of the most challenging parts of the new operating plan you need to address: Layoffs and culture.

Carpenters use the aphorism “Measure twice, cut once.” The same applies to layoffs. In every downturn I’ve lived through, there were CEOs who handled layoffs as “a death by a thousand cuts.” For example, in a company with 1000 employees, they’d layoff a 100 people the first month, another 100 the next month, then a 100 the third month to downsize to 700 people over several months. Rather than being productive, the constant layoffs were demoralizing and paralyzed the remaining workforce. Employees saw that the direction was a downward spiral with no end in sight. And everyone worried: “Am I next?”  I’ve watched other CEOs immediately layoff 400 people and have 600 left. If/when they overshot, they could rehire 100 people (including some of the same people who had been laid off). While the mass layoffs created an immediate shock, people adjusted. They worried but began to feel more secure. When hiring began again, everyone was relieved: “The worst is over. Things are getting better.” (Remember to investigate whether the Paycheck Protection Program can save some or all of those jobs.)

To begin adjusting the culture to this new reality, communicate these business model and operating plan changes to your employees. Offer relentless optimism for survival, but ruthless cost-cutting (starting with the CXO salaries.) Let them know that as CEO you are going to be micromanaging for survival and expect each of them to do the same. You’re going to be relentless, direct and clear that once decisions are made, there are no disagreements. And remind them that together you are all working to save the company and their own jobs.

At some point this crisis will run its course. Running this five-day playbook will help your business survive so when the recovery does come, you’ll emerge stronger and ready to hire and grow again.

Lessons Learned

  • CEOs need to take control and take drastic action. Be decisive and do it immediately
  • Survival = (speed of your understanding of the situation) x (the magnitude of the pivots/cuts/lifeboat choices you make) x (the speed of your time to make those changes)
  • Involve the board and the rest of the company
  • Communicate with all employees daily
  • Move with speed and urgency, you have days — not weeks or months
  • As painful as it might be, when you make cuts do it once
  • Assume you’ll emerge on the other side. What will you wish you had kept?

Sample Coronavirus Plan for Businesses

If you don’t have one, copy and paste this one:  

When the virus starts spreading near your business, a good plan is essential to the ensure the safety of your employees and the continuity of your operations.

The Founder Institute has formal chapters in 185+ cities and is one of the largest event organizers in the world, so we spent several weeks developing comprehensive policies (and emails to communicate and enforce those policies), and we used this experience to create a template for anyone to copy, edit and use below.

Novel Coronavirus  –  Startup & Small Business Plan Version 2.1 – March 15th, 2020

Response Overview

The novel Coronavirus COVID-19 has spread very rapidly worldwide and is the cause of a large number of deaths. Many countries have insufficient capacity for testing. At the same time, many people are infectious before they show symptoms. Therefore, it is likely that communities have a large number of people with undetected COVID-19. This is a risk for your team members, their families and your community.

According to the research, social distancing is the most effective method to slow down and halt the spread of COVID-19. Given the serious threat this virus poses to our vulnerable population and healthcare systems, we recommend that all companies immediately close down offices. This will help lessen the risk for your team, their families, and your community. Even if the number of cases in your community is low, it is vital to take action early due to the rapid spread of the virus.

Response Plan

Strong actions by companies and governments are required to Stop the Spread. Below are some recommended actions:

  1. Close your office to non-essential staff and all visitors.
  1. Determine who can work from home and for who it is absolutely necessary to be at the office.
  2. Supply hand sanitizer, wipes and other sanitization tools at entrances and other key locations.
  3. Adapt your office to accommodate for more distance between team members and ensure proper social distancing can be enacted.
  1. Set up technology and other ways of working to support remote work.
  1. Invest in reliable virtual communication tools such as Zoom and Slack.
  2. Ensure that your team members understand how to use your communication tools and which tool should be prioritized for specific use cases.
  1. Assign a primary and secondary contact person for your staff.
  1. Identify a point person to collect team member feedback, monitor the local situation and report analysis to the management team, ideally someone conservative.
  2. Empower the point person with the necessary authority to make quick decisions that can save lives.
  3. Review any ideas and concerns submitted with the company management team for implementation.
  1. Establish a management meeting and, if needed, a task force to keep track of the developments in your community and to adapt your response.
  1. Schedule regular weekly meetings with all team members to ensure that everyone is engaged.
  2. Schedule at least a bi-weekly check in with your task force to update your company response based on recent developments.
  3. Anticipate a loss in productivity from your team members due to the stressful situation and be sensitive to this fact.
  1. Reinvest the time normally spent commuting into building team morale and support.
  1. Expect higher levels of stress and anxiety among the team, as well as feelings of isolation from working remotely.
  2. Check in with your team members daily to ensure that everyone is holding up and managing the stress well, offering support as needed.
  3. Work to keep morale as high as possible to reduce the economic impact of the virus on your company.
  1. Consider ways to preserve capital and continue operations.
  1. Examine any effects of lost productivity due to working remotely, lost revenues due to business lowdows and delayed supply chains.
  2. Project a difficult economic climate for operations and financing that will last 90 days or more, depending on the strength of the local response.
  3. Conserve the necessary operating capital to operate through the impacted period and recovery, planning business alterations now to preserve the necessary capital.

Working Remotely

We are taking this unusual time as an opportunity to experiment with new ways of working.

  • Meetings – We will replace all in-person meetings with (Zoom/Uber Conference/Skype)
  • Collaboration – We will be using (Slack/WhatsApp/Email/Trello/Notion/Basecamp) to keep everyone up-to-date

We want to be successful working remotely and here are some best practices to ensure this:

  • Communication – Over-communicate about what you are working on. There is no such thing as over-communication, however, please use online notifications respectfully.
  • Tolerance – Assume the best of intentions with written messaging. Without in-person interaction, it may be harder to interpret the meaning and tone of a message.
  • Availability – Some team members may have family members at home to care for. Please advise your co-workers of your schedule and particular circumstances, so that we can best adapt work at this unusual time.
  • Scheduling – Divide your day in deep work when you prefer not to be disturbed, and shallow work when you are available to colleagues, and communicate that to your colleagues.

Staying Safe

Please be aware of your role in our community to help stop the spread:

  • Contact – Avoid physical contact, such as handshakes and kissing.
  • Hygiene – Wash your hands. Avoid touching your face, eyes, mouth and nose.
  • Events – Avoid events with 10 people or more and stay 6 feet away from others at events.
  • Coughing – Cover your mouth when coughing, ideally with disposable paper.

Mental Wellbeing

Please take the time to care for your mental wellbeing. Based on the World Health Organization’s guidelines, here are some helpful principles to follow:

  • Anxiety – If you are feeling anxiety, avoid watching, reading or listening to news that may increase your distress. Use news to take practical steps, and set aside a couple times per day to review the news, versus a continuous stream.
  • Stress – If you are feeling stressed, take a break and do something relaxing, such as reading a book or watching a television show.
  • Empathy – If you upset, be empathetic to the others around you that may also have higher levels of anxiety and stress.
  • Language – Be careful in the language that you use by being thoughtful in your working and byu  referring to “people who have COVID-19”, “people who are being treated for COVID-19”, and “people who are recovering from COVID-19.”


From CDC

Virtual Communication Tools

There are many virtual meeting and communication tools on the market. We have compiled a list below from companies that are best in breed. Some are offering special deals to its customers due to the virus:

What You Need to Know about the Paycheck Protection Program

Courtesy of Synovus Bank  –

President Trump signed into law the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act on March 27. The legislation provides approximately $2.2 trillion of fiscal stimulus, including a $350 billion bank loan program for businesses referred to as the “Paycheck Protection Program.”

The new program provides financial assistance for businesses, including sole proprietors and independent contractors, with a focus on helping you keep employees on the payroll.

Here are some key highlights of how the program is expected to work:

  • Loan amounts to be based on your payroll costs — 2.5 times average monthly payroll costs up to $10 million
  • Potential for 100% loan forgiveness when the funds are used on specified expenses including payroll, mortgage interest, rent, and utility payments
  • 4% fixed interest rates with payments deferred for up to one year and no prepayment penalty.

Specific application requirements haven’t been determined yet for this program. Based on the intent of the loan and the assistance it seeks to provide, we recommend you start collecting the following documentation.

Needed to help you calculate the eligible loan amount:

  • Payroll reports for 2019 and 2020 year to date showing the following by employee and/or officers:
    • Gross wages
    • Paid time off
    • Paid vacation
    • Pay for family medical leave
    • State and local taxes (form 940, 941, or 944)
    • 1099’s for independent contractors (if applicable)
  • Completed 2019 tax return OR 2019 Profit and Loss Report and Balance Sheet
  • Documentation Showing:
    • Funds received in the form of an Economic Injury loan since 1/31/20
    • Payments for group health care benefits including premiums paid in 2019 to 2020 year to date
    • Payment of any retirement benefits paid in 2019 and 2020 year to date

Needed for verification of forgiveness amount:

  • Quarterly IRS forms 940, 941, or 944 for the following dates:
    • March 31, 2019 and June 30, 2019
    • March 31, 2020 and June 30, 2020
  • Documentation in the form of canceled checks, payment receipts, and bank statements showing payment of the following items from 2/15/20 to 6/30/20:
    • Mortgage Interest
    • Rent payments
    • Utilities

How the Pandemic Will End

The U.S. may end up with the worst Covid-19 outbreak in the industrialized world. This is how it’s going to play out.

Three months ago, no one knew that SARS-CoV-2 existed. Now the virus has spread to almost every country, infecting at least 446,000 people whom we know about, and many more whom we do not. It has crashed economies and broken health-care systems, filled hospitals and emptied public spaces. It has separated people from their workplaces and their friends. It has disrupted modern society on a scale that most living people have never witnessed. Soon, most everyone in the United States will know someone who has been infected. Like World War II or the 9/11 attacks, this pandemic has already imprinted itself upon the nation’s psyche.

A global pandemic of this scale was inevitable. In recent years, hundreds of health experts have written books, white papers, and op-eds warning of the possibility. Bill Gates has been telling anyone who would listen, including the 18 million viewers of his TED Talk. In 2018, I wrote a story for The Atlantic arguing that America was not ready for the pandemic that would eventually come. In October, the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security war-gamed what might happen if a new coronavirus swept the globe. And then one did. Hypotheticals became reality. “What if?” became “Now what?”

So, now what? In the late hours of last Wednesday, which now feels like the distant past, I was talking about the pandemic with a pregnant friend who was days away from her due date. We realized that her child might be one of the first of a new cohort who are born into a society profoundly altered by COVID-19. We decided to call them Generation C.

As we’ll see, Gen C’s lives will be shaped by the choices made in the coming weeks, and by the losses we suffer as a result. But first, a brief reckoning. On the Global Health Security Index, a report card that grades every country on its pandemic preparedness, the United States has a score of 83.5 — the world’s highest. Rich, strong, developed, America is supposed to be the readiest of nations. That illusion has been shattered. Despite months of advance warning as the virus spread in other countries, when America was finally tested by COVID-19, it failed.

“No matter what, a virus [like SARS-CoV-2] was going to test the resilience of even the most well-equipped health systems,” says Nahid Bhadelia, an infectious-diseases physician at the Boston University School of Medicine. More transmissible and fatal than seasonal influenza, the new coronavirus is also stealthier, spreading from one host to another for several days before triggering obvious symptoms. To contain such a pathogen, nations must develop a test and use it to identify infected people, isolate them, and trace those they’ve had contact with. That is what South Korea, Singapore, and Hong Kong did to tremendous effect. It is what the United States did not.

As my colleagues Alexis Madrigal and Robinson Meyer have reported, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention developed and distributed a faulty test in February. Independent labs created alternatives, but were mired in bureaucracy from the FDA. In a crucial month when the American caseload shot into the tens of thousands, only hundreds of people were tested. That a biomedical powerhouse like the U.S. should so thoroughly fail to create a very simple diagnostic test was, quite literally, unimaginable. “I’m not aware of any simulations that I or others have run where we [considered] a failure of testing,” says Alexandra Phelan of Georgetown University, who works on legal and policy issues related to infectious diseases.

The testing fiasco was the original sin of America’s pandemic failure, the single flaw that undermined every other countermeasure. If the country could have accurately tracked the spread of the virus, hospitals could have executed their pandemic plans, girding themselves by allocating treatment rooms, ordering extra supplies, tagging in personnel, or assigning specific facilities to deal with COVID-19 cases. None of that happened. Instead, a health-care system that already runs close to full capacity, and that was already challenged by a severe flu season, was suddenly faced with a virus that had been left to spread, untracked, through communities around the country. Overstretched hospitals became overwhelmed. Basic protective equipment, such as masks, gowns, and gloves, began to run out. Beds will soon follow, as will the ventilators that provide oxygen to patients whose lungs are besieged by the virus.

With little room to surge during a crisis, America’s health-care system operates on the assumption that unaffected states can help beleaguered ones in an emergency. That ethic works for localized disasters such as hurricanes or wildfires, but not for a pandemic that is now in all 50 states. Cooperation has given way to competition; some worried hospitals have bought out large quantities of supplies, in the way that panicked consumers have bought out toilet paper.

Partly, that’s because the White House is a ghost town of scientific expertise. A pandemic-preparedness office that was part of the National Security Council was dissolved in 2018. On January 28, Luciana Borio, who was part of that team, urged the government to “act now to prevent an American epidemic,” and specifically to work with the private sector to develop fast, easy diagnostic tests. But with the office shuttered, those warnings were published in The Wall Street Journal, rather than spoken into the president’s ear. Instead of springing into action, America sat idle.

Rudderless, blindsided, lethargic, and uncoordinated, America has mishandled the COVID-19 crisis to a substantially worse degree than what every health expert I’ve spoken with had feared. “Much worse,” said Ron Klain, who coordinated the U.S. response to the West African Ebola outbreak in 2014. “Beyond any expectations we had,” said Lauren Sauer, who works on disaster preparedness at Johns Hopkins Medicine. “As an American, I’m horrified,” said Seth Berkley, who heads Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. “The U.S. may end up with the worst outbreak in the industrialized world.”

Continued on this link  –

Courtesy of Daily Medium and The Atlantic Magazine, March 25, 2020, by Ed Yong

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