As we write, U.S. cities and states with extensive community transmission of Covid‐19 are in harm's way—not only because of the disease itself but also because of prior and current failures to act. During the 2009 influenza pandemic, public health agencies and hospitals developed but never adequately implemented preparedness plans. Focused on efficiency in a competitive market, health systems had few incentives to maintain stockpiles of essential medical equipment. Just‐in‐time economic models resulted in storage of only those supplies needed then. At the same time, global purchasing in search of lower prices reduced the number of U.S. suppliers, with hospitals dependent on foreign companies. There is still a possibility that the pandemic will be manageably bad rather than unmanageably catastrophic in this country. Immediate, powerful, and sustained federal action could make the difference.