Pretending we could wall out the virus not only gave the public a false sense of security, it also left the United States unready for the threat it now faces. Robust overseas containment was a defensible first step -- travel restrictions can delay the arrival and spread of an outbreak by a few weeks. Paired with the draconian measures imposed by China, this might have extended the window for strengthening domestic preparedness. But buying time only matters if it is linked to a clear plan for enhancing readiness and a reliable surveillance strategy to signal whether containment is working. Neither of those things happened.

American hospital capacity is lean. The 46,500 beds in intensive care in the United States are mostly occupied. Covid-19, if uncontrolled, might lead to up to 1.9 million I.C.U. admissions, according to projections presented to the American Hospital Association.

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