Editor’s Note: Peter Bergen is CNN’s national security analyst, a vice president at New America and a professor of practice at Arizona State University. He is the editor of the Coronavirus Daily Brief and author of the new book “Trump and His Generals: The Cost of Chaos.”

CNN  — 

Infectious disease expert Michael Osterholm, who has been warning for a decade and a half about the possibility of a global pandemic, said the coronavirus we’re fighting is at least as infectious as the one that killed an estimated 50 million people in the 1918 flu worldwide outbreak.

He said we’re only in the second inning of a nine-inning contest, with the possibility of as many as 800,000 deaths or more in the US over the next 18 months.

Osterholm also pointed to a shortage of chemical reagents that are necessary for widespread testing for the virus and said that the CDC’s low public profile in this pandemic in the United States has been a “tragedy.”

He decried the lack of a national long-term strategy for the pandemic and noted that there are real questions about the efficacy of the antibody tests that are being developed to detect if people have been exposed to the virus.

Michael Osterholm

Osterholm, who founded the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, warned in 2005 that “time is running out to prepare for the next pandemic,” a point that he expanded on in his 2017 book, “Deadliest Enemy: Our War Against Killer Germs.”

He discussed the coronavirus at a recent online event organized by the New America think tank with me. The discussion was edited for length and clarity and updated with new information.


As we learn more about the transmission of this virus, it’s very clear that it is at least, if not more, infectious than even what the world experienced in the historic pandemic influenza of 1918. And I’m convinced that this pandemic is following what we experienced in 1918.

While I don’t expect the Covid-19 pandemic to be exactly like that of 1918, the epidemiology tells me that this first wave of illness is, in fact, just the beginning of what could very easily be 16 to 18 months of substantial activity of this virus around the world, coming and going, wave after wave. Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for the Disease Control (CDC) commented Tuesday that he believes a 2020-21 winter wave could be worse than what we have experienced this spring.

Will the next waves get bigger like they did in 1918 when there was a spring peak and a fall peak?

We don’t know that, but it surely is a virus that likely will have to infect at least 60 to 70% of the population before we see a major reduction in its transmission.

I think it’s very hard to realize that we’re first in the first innings of this crisis. A quote keeps coming back to me from Sir Winston Churchill: “This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end, but it’s perhaps the end of the beginning.” I think that’s where we’re at right now. You might say we’re in the second inning of a nine-inning game.

We’ve got to consider how we’re going to prepare ourselves for the possibility that some of the cities that have already been hit hard will have peaks some months down the road that may be much larger in case numbers than we’r