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Former Santa Barbara Co health officer tapped for network investigation on COVID-19

‘American Catastrophe,’ an ABC Network investigation into the coronavirus and COVID-19, put the spotlight on Santa Barbara County’s former health officer, Dr. Charity Dean. 

"New Year’s Eve, if someone had told me a pandemic was coming it wouldn't have surprised me -- the world was overdue for one. And that’s always what’s kept me up at night,” Dean said during Tuesday night’s special. 

Dean was among dozens of national experts tapped for a behind-the-scenes account of America’s response to the COVID-19 global health crisis. She most recently served as assistant director of California's Department of Public Health and was part of a special task force created by Governor Gavin Newsom. 

"Reading about people being locked into apartment buildings, streets being closed off, entire cities being cordoned …. that is a signal of how serious this pathogen was."

Tuesday night's hour long special gave a breakdown of the worldwide response timeline. Dean and other experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, navigated viewers through various landmarks and milestones from Wuhan, China in 2019 up to the present day in the United States. 

Together, the experts pointed to multiple reasons for the rapid spread of the virus not only throughout the U.S. but the world.

The interviews centered on stonewalling by the Chinese government, a lack of U.S. leadership, few travel restrictions and a botched homegrown test out of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

"January was really our opportunity as a country to contain this virus before it spread like wildfire and that opportunity was missed,” Dean said. 

Open borders, international travel, and commerce helped facilitate the spread. By January 20, COVID-19 was on American soil; by February, health officials documented the first death. Dean and the other experts said President Donald Trump and his administration downplayed the threat.

"We were not allowed to test at state public health and local public health departments were not able to test either,” Dean said. 

Clearance had to come from the CDC.

Now, as testing ramps up across the country -- including a new vaccine trial -- Dean and the panel of experts said so should mask wearing protocols.

"In order for every American to participate in the solution they have to first understand the reality of the threat that we're facing."

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Beth Farnsworth

Beth Farnsworth is the evening anchor for KEYT NewsChannel 3.