Lawrence Wright Discusses “The Plague Year”

With 20 million cases and more than 350,000 deaths, COVID-19 has ravaged America while also exposing many of the country’s deepest societal and structural failings. What went wrong – and what lies ahead? Veteran journalist Lawrence Wright has spent these months studying the destruction caused by the virus in America, as reported in his epic piece for The New Yorker titled “The Plague Year.”

Read Transcript EXPAND

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: How did this — what are your main takeaways of the main mistakes? Because there have to have been mistakes, with 350,000 dead in the leading medical and scientific nation of the world, and 20 million cases in the U.S. What are your main takeaways about the key moments that led to this?

LAWRENCE WRIGHT, STAFF WRITER, “THE NEW YORKER”: Well, there were three. The first was, at the beginning of the year, the Chinese refused to let the United States authorities come in and investigate what was going on. And had they gone in, according to Robert Redfield, he was certainly would have discovered right away that there was asymptomatic transmission. But it really wasn’t until the middle of March that became an established feature of our response to this. And the idea was, it’s flu. And it was a terrible misconception, that it was going to be just like the flu. When you get sick, you will be symptomatic, and you will go to bed and — but you will pass it because you’re symptomatic. No, it’s more like polio, where like one out of 200 people with polio is symptomatic. In this case, it’s 50 to 70 percent of the victims are asymptomatic. That was mistake number one. Mistake number two was the test, a catastrophe, a sad tragedy for what was once a great institution, the Centers for Disease Control. But the FDA played a role in that too. To roll out a test — we lost all of February to a bungled test and to the FDA’s intransigent feeling that it couldn’t let the test go forward, which would easily have been done if they had just discarded one element of that test. And the final strike three was the masks. And here you can lay the blame at the feet of the president. His own advisers told him that masks were our last chance to try to contain this contagion. And he announced on television, everybody says this is a good idea. It may be a good idea, but it’s voluntary, and I’m not going to do it. At that moment, he politicized the mask question, and really threw away our last chance to do anything to stave off this catastrophe that engulfed our country.

About This Episode EXPAND

Anne Applebaum and Fintan O’Toole; Lawrence Wright; Ijeoma Oluo