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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Now that the COVID-19 pandemic has fully arrived, how bad it gets will largely be a function of how our society responds at every level.

Why it matters: From pandemics to climate change to earthquakes, massive catastrophes lie in our future. But in a world that has the technological capability that ours does, we have the power to mitigate those disasters through our preparation and resilience — or to make them worse through our failures.

Today we can either directly see through technology a disaster coming or reasonably know our level of risk based on the experience of the past or the ability to model what's to come.

What this means is that in the truest sense, no disaster is really — or only — natural. The toll a catastrophe takes, especially in human lives, now has as much or more to do with our preparation, response and level of wealth as it has to do with the strength of the event itself.

  • One example: The 2010 earthquake that hit Haiti had a 7.0 magnitude and killed at least 220,000 people, while another temblor that struck a much better prepared Chile a month later was far stronger, yet killed fewer than 600 people.

The COVID-19 pandemic was entirely foreseeable, as I reported recently.

  • Yet by refusing to take that threat seriously, and even dismantling some of the response measures that were already in place, the U.S. effectively expanded its "bull's-eye of risk" for an infectious disease disaster.

Be smart: What happens next with COVID-19 will have far more to do with the steps we take in the days and weeks ahead than anything to do with the virus itself.

  • The New York Times reported on March 13 that worst-case projections by the CDC had as many as 214 million Americans being infected and as many as 1.7 million dying.
  • But those projections assume that nothing would be done to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. The wide-scale canceling of social gatherings and distancing measures being put in place will almost surely bend that curve.
  • The apparent success of China and South Korea in curbing the outbreak, and places like Hong Kong and Singapore in preventing the disease from gaining a strong foothold in the first place, demonstrates the difference that action can make.

What's true of the pandemic now will also be true of threats from megatrends that will only intensify in the future, like climate change. What we do to directly mitigate global warming and adapt to its effects will determine our level of risk.

  • Actions that make us more vulnerable — like building up development on coastlines that face rising seas or allowing vaccination rates for preventable diseases to fall — expand the bull's-eye of risk.
  • Mismanagement of a disaster while it occurs or immediately after it can make a catastrophe far worse, as we saw with Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The bottom line: There's no such thing as a natural disaster anymore. Our ability to prepare and respond to what nature throws at us is our strength — or, should we fail to do both, our vulnerability.

Go deeper: The new threat of unintentional coronavirus misinformation

Go deeper

Surprising pandemic side effect: Soaring trade deficits

Source: Census Bureau and Bureau of Economic Analysis; Chart: Axios Visuals

Inflation and jobs may get all the economic headlines, but meanwhile a big shift is taking place in the underpinnings of the world economy: The U.S. trade deficit is soaring.

What's happening: Americans' spending on imported physical goods has gone through the roof, while exports are growing slowly, making the U.S. the world's consumer of last resort.

Mike Allen, author of AM
2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Third Way: "Big Lie" could become "Big Coup"

Graphic: Third Way

Third Way, the center-left think tank, is urging fellow Democrats to respond to the Capitol riot with "the size, scope, and seriousness of a presidential campaign," co-founder Matt Bennett tells me.

Driving the news: "For the first time in U.S. history, a party must mount two parallel presidential campaigns: one to win the election, and the other to prevent its theft," Bennett said, calling this "a Paul Revere moment."

Advocates say Biden has let Haitian migrants down

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photos: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, Christian Torres/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Continued turmoil in Haiti is causing a growing number of Haitians to try to make it to American shores — and some advocates say the Biden administration isn't supporting this community in its time of crisis.

The big picture: Haitian-American activists in South Florida told Axios Today they feel like President Biden has gone back on campaign promises he made to the community to stand up for them.

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