Fact check: 'Catastrophic Contagion' tested pandemic preparedness – USA TODAY

A Dec. 31, 2022, video on Facebook video features several people discussing an upcoming pandemic preparedness exercise involving the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
“It’s starting, Bill Gates announces the next pandemic date and outbreak location,” reads the caption on the video.
The video was viewed more than 100,000 times in 11 days
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The exercise referenced in the video gave Bill Gates and several former and current public health officials a chance to strategize for a fictional future pandemic. It was not a prediction or announcement of when the next pandemic will occur. Health officials and nonprofits have conducted similar exercises for more than two decades.
The event referenced in the video is called “Catastrophic Contagion,” a tabletop exercise conducted in October 2022 in which Gates and various public health officials addressed a fictional future pandemic.
“The goal of the fictional exercise was to highlight gaps in pandemic preparedness and to generate ideas for initiatives that countries could take now to improve the world’s collective ability to save lives and livelihoods during future pandemics,” Cagla Giray, director of communications for the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told USA TODAY in an email. 
A spokesperson for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation also said the claim that the exercise was a prediction or announcement of the next pandemic was false. 
The exercise revolved around a fictional outbreak in one part of the world that rapidly grew into a pandemic. The pathogen in the scenario had a higher fatality rate than COVID-19 and “disproportionately affected children and young people,” according to the website for the exercise.
Giray stressed that the details of the scenario were not a prediction.
“The pathogen in the exercise was imagined purely as an educational technique to help the participants contend with the types of policy dilemmas that are foreseeable during large-scale public health emergencies,” Giray said.   
Such exercises have been commonplace for more than two decades. Gates and Johns Hopkins also teamed up on an exercise featuring a fictional coronavirus in 2019. The similarities between that scenario and the COVID-19 pandemic fueled conspiracy theories that USA TODAY previously debunked.
Lauren Ancel Meyers, a professor of integrative biology at the University of Texas, said tabletop exercises and other simulations are important tools for preparing responses to public health emergencies. She was not involved in the Johns Hopkins exercises, but she noted that some of the challenges at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic “were things we just did not expect to happen.” **
Many simulations assumed an influenza outbreak would be the next pandemic and “the playbook was just different enough,” said Meyers, who is directing the establishment of the University of Texas Center for Pandemic Decision Science.
Fact check: A Bill Gates-backed pandemic simulation in October did not predict COVID-19
USA TODAY reached out to the user who shared the video for comment.
Reuters also debunked the claim.
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Our fact-check work is supported in part by a grant from Facebook.


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