Whether atomic priesthoods, 50ft concrete spikes or burying astronauts in concrete, humanity’s attempts to keep free from infection are examined in Until Proven Safe

In January 2020, just a few days before the first Covid-19-infected passengers landed in the United States on a flight from Wuhan, preparations were already being made in a converted car park in Omaha, Nebraska. By complete coincidence, after a decade of planning, the country’s first National Quarantine Unit opened its doors here on the eve of a global pandemic.

The timing couldn’t have been better. The need for such a place had been mooted ever since 9/11, followed by a series of anthrax attacks and Sars, all of which had raised fears in Congress over the prospect of bioterrorism and the increasing global threat of infectious diseases. Located roughly equidistant from both coasts, the city of Omaha declared itself to be the ideal place for isolating people potentially infected with deadly contagions, and received almost $20m from the US department of health to establish a state-of-the-art federal quarantine facility. Featuring negative-pressure en suite rooms kitted out with mini-fridges, TVs and exercise bikes, it was like a high-security, wipe-clean hotel. There was only one problem: it had just 20 beds.

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