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The Man Who Saw the Pandemic Coming

Happy Holidays. This week we are reprinting our top stories of 2020. This article first appeared online in our “Intelligence” issue in March, 2020.

Dennis Carroll doesn’t mean to sound callous when he says the coronavirus outbreak was predictable. And he doesn’t. He sounds sympathetic to people frightened by the outbreak. He has been an eyewitness to people around the world suffering from similar viruses. Most of all, Carroll sounds authoritative.

For decades, Carroll has been a leading voice about the threat of zoonotic spillover, the transmission of pathogens from nonhuman animals to us. Scientists are confident the current outbreak, which began in Wuhan, China, stemmed from a virus inherent in bats. In 2009, after years of studying infectious diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Carroll formed a USAID program called PREDICT, where he guided trailblazing research into viruses hiding, and waiting to emerge, in animals around the world.

“Dennis is a visionary,” says Christine K. Johnson, an epidemiologist at the One Health Institute at the University of California, Davis, where she is a professor in the School of Veterinary Medicine. “He took the reactive approach to infectious diseases and turned it on its head. He said, ‘We’re going to work on a proactive approach to help countries prepare for the emergence of infectious diseases.’” Johnson, an investigator at PREDICT for 10 years, says Carroll was a pioneer in looking beyond livestock. “Dennis saw that emerging infectious diseases, far and wide, have mostly come from wildlife, and there needed to be investment in research in the wildlife sector.” For a decade, PREDICT received annual federal funding of $15 to $20 million. In 2019, its funding wasn’t renewed. Carroll left USAID and formed a new program, the Global Virome Project, “to build on PREDICT’s scientific insights and experience,” he says.

This is a global event. It is going to hit

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