7 Things We Can Learn From the Debate About the Origins of COVID-19

Where did the COVID-19 virus really come from? 

We have two possible answers. The virus either arose from a lab leak in Wuhan, China or it came from a wet market there. 

In February, an unreleased report from the U.S. Department of Energy, which oversees a network of U.S. labs, concluded with “low confidence” that the COVID-19 outbreak originated from an accidental lab leak in Wuhan, China. Even with this report, however, other U.S. government agencies and leading scientists have not changed their opinion that the virus causing COVID-19 came from the wet market in Wuhan, as a result of transmission from animals to humans – a phenomenon known as a spillover event.

In fact, three weeks after the DOE report, researchers presented data at a World Health Organization meeting that suggested racoon dogs may have been the intermediate host for the virus. Racoon dogs are wild animals sold in the Wuhan market, and researchers found traces of coronavirus in their stall. WHO officials cautioned that this new information is not definitive and the virus could have had origins in a lab.

We expect this debate to continue, and we may never reach consensus on the origins of COVID-19. 

The origin of the virus, however, may not be the most important question we can ask from a biorisk management perspective. The more relevant question might be: What can the ongoing debate teach us about enterprise preparedness and risk management? 

Future outbreaks may originate from labs, wet markets or other sources. It’s valuable to gain insights about both in order to prepare for the next outbreak, regardless of its origin. At PHC Global, we want to share what we know to help you develop risk mitigation strategies for your enterprise.

1. Lab leaks: Preventing and preparing for potential lab leaks

The suggestion that COVID-19 originated in a lab is plausible because of the known potential for accidental lab leaks. Labs commonly work with infectious agents, and although most don’t have malicious or offensive motives, there’s still potential for accidental release of these organisms. 

In fact, if the COVID-19 virus did originate from a lab leak, it was hardly a unique case. In November 2022, poliovirus was detected in sewage in the Netherlands, and research showed it had leaked from a lab there. Unfortunately, lab leaks can and do occur. When they do, they often leave social, political and supply chain disruption in their wake, creating panic and international relations disasters. 

Events like this underscore the need to maintain the highest safety precautions at facilities working with potentially infectious germs. Universal codes of conduct at these facilities, and international oversight of labs, can also reduce risks. But even the best preventative measures sometimes fail. When disaster from a lab leak strikes, it’s vital that your enterprise has the foresight to see it coming and the time to plan your response.

2. Animal spillover events: inevitable drivers of human disease

If the COVID-19 pandemic originated from animal-to-human spillover, it is also not the first time it’s happened. Past examples include the 1918 influenza pandemic, Bubonic Plague, SARS and MERS. When one of these events has occurred, global economies have experienced major disruption. Could it happen again? Sadly, the question is not if, but when. 

In fact, spillover to humans is happening now, although in small numbers.  Human cases of the H5N1 Avian Flu have been reported recently in Cambodia. The Marburg virus has, so far, been responsible for 27 human deaths in Equatorial Guinea. Spillover events will continue to occur, and although most will have a limited scope of impact, some will lead to sustained human-to-human transmission with its associated consequences. 

3. Prevention of animal spillover events

Is there anything we can do to reduce animal spillover events? Fortunately, we have many options. These include:

  • Improving land use, especially at the human-forest interface
  • Improving and standardizing animal management
  • Regulating wet markets
  • Limiting poaching

However, none of these measures can fully eliminate the threat.

4. An effective global response to animal spillover events

What happens when animal spillover events do occur? A multi-national collaborative response to spillover events, with broad participation of industry, governments and academia, lending expertise, resources and genomic analysis to the effort is essential. Global biosecurity platforms like the PHC Pharos will also be critical to these efforts by providing timely, science-based intelligence, using a range of cutting-edge data streams coupled with expert threat assessments and guidance. Enhanced diagnostic testing, pathogen surveillance and genomics capacities are all key to global preparedness.

5. Enterprise preparedness for animal spillover events

Enterprises should expect future animal-to-human transmission events to drive local, regional, national and global outbreaks. Organizational leadership should understand the risks unique to the areas in which they operate. For instance, an awareness of Ebola in parts of sub-Saharan Africa, or plague in some Western regions of the  U.S., is crucial. 

Enterprises also should prepare for future zoonotic pathogens (those that have jumped from animals to humans) that are likely to cause global disease. These could include non-COVID coronaviruses and flus that originated from animals. The PHC Pharos Platform can serve as a powerful tool in this effort, offering foresight and actionable insights so that enterprises can anticipate outcomes before they occur.

6. An effective global response to the debate

The debate surrounding the origins of COVID-19 has been fueled by the chaos inherent in a rapidly evolving pandemic, politics and other factors. It also has been amplified by lack of information sharing by multiple countries. Unfortunately, the debate distracts from the reality that no matter the origin, viruses like this will arise again, so learning from COVID-19 is essential. 

Now is the time to prepare with measures including:

  •  investing in public health infrastructure
  •  improving transparency surrounding lab activities and disease outbreaks
  •  enhancing international oversight of labs
  •  expanding genomics
  •  developing rapid diagnostics
  •  Increasing wastewater pathogen surveillance capacities

7. How should your enterprise respond?

For effective critical decision-making, your enterprise should be empowered with the following:

  • Use science-based guidance for navigating a crisis
  • Establish purpose-built solutions in place for your unique business needs
  • Cultivate the ability to rapidly forecast trends and global relationships
  • Collect data from diverse, reliable sources to drive optimal analysis
  • Develop work-from-home options as established mitigation strategies

Despite our best efforts, not all crises can be prevented. However, global and enterprise preparedness can mitigate the human impact of the next public health disaster.


  1. Lab Leak Most Likely Caused Pandemic, Energy Dept. Says
  2. The Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan was the early epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic
  3. Are raccoon dogs the missing link in the mystery of COVID-19’s origins? The answer depends on whom you talk to
  4. Wild poliovirus type 3 (WPV3)-shedding event following detection in environmental surveillance of poliovirus essential facilities, the Netherlands, November 2022 to January 2023
  5. Beyond the pandemic origins debate
  6. Cambodia Reports 2nd human case of h5n1 bird flu

For more information about PHC Global and the PHC Pharos Platform, view our video or visit our website

Get started with the Pharos Platform. 

Enter your contact information below and we'll be in touch with you ASAP.

Dave Komendat retired as the Vice President and Chief Security Officer for The Boeing Company, a role he held for 14 years of his 36 years within the security profession. Komendat was responsible for the company’s global security and fire protection policy and procedures, site security, executive protection, supply chain and aviation security, structural and aircraft fire protection, government and proprietary information security, classified cyber security, strategic intelligence, international security, business continuity and disaster preparedness, Global Security Operations Center, and security background investigations.


Komendat was also the lead Boeing interface for both national and international security policy engagement with numerous government and industry advisory groups. He represented Boeing as past co-chairman and current board member on the Domestic Security Alliance Council, past President of The International Security Management Association and served as a member of the Threats and Information Committee for the Overseas Security Advisory Council.  


Komendat is the founder and President of DSKomendat Risk Management Services, he also serves on several company advisory boards and holds board leadership roles with several non-profit organizations whose missions are to protect people globally, including Hostage U.S. and The International Security Foundation. Dave is also a Strategic Engagement Advisor for the Office of Private Sector within the FBI. In 2018, Dave was awarded the Director’s Award for Exceptional Public Service by FBI Director Christopher Wray.


Komendat graduated from California State University at Long Beach and also attended and completed the executive development program at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.

Dr. Carter Mecher serves as the Medical Advisor for the Public Health Company. 


Prior to joining PHC, Carter served as a Senior Medical Advisor for the Office of Public Health in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. In this position, Dr. Mecher played a key role in the COVID-19 outbreak response. 


From 2005 to 2011, he served as the Director of Medical Preparedness Policy at the White House Homeland Security Council and National Security Staff. He was a principal author of the National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza Implementation Plan. In this capacity, he helped set policy and devise strategies to mitigate the consequences of a pandemic and promote pandemic preparedness. 


Before serving at the White House, Dr. Mecher was the Chief Medical Officer for the Southeast VA Network in Atlanta from 1996 to 2005. In this role he oversaw the healthcare delivery for veterans in Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina. 


Dr. Mecher is a co-author of Lessons from the COVID War, an in-depth examination of the U.S. response to the pandemic. In addition, he is featured in Michael Lewis’ book The Premonition.


Dr. Mecher received his medical degree from Chicago Medical School and completed a residency in internal medicine and a fellowship in critical care medicine at Los Angeles County/USC Medical Center.

Dr. Joe DeRisi is a Scientific Advisor to PHC. He is one of the early pioneers of DNA microarray technology and whole genome expression profiling; he is nationally recognized in the field of genomic epidemiology for designing a first-of-its-kind initiative for COVID-19. Joe currently serves as Co-President of Chan Zuckerberg BioHub and is a professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics at University of California, San Francisco. He has a Bachelor of Arts in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from University of California, Santa Cruz, and a Ph.D. in Biochemistry from Stanford University.

Dr. Sumiko Mekaru is the Vice President of Research and Innovation at The Public Health Company. Dr. Mekaru is an epidemiologist operating at the intersection of traditional epidemiology and technology and leading cross-disciplinary teams to solve challenges in public health. Prior to joining PHC, Dr. Mekaru was a Life Sciences Strategy, Policy, and Operations Expert at Booz Allen Hamilton where she recently led the development of COVID-19 forecasting models for disease transmission, resource utilization, and critical events for the Department of Defense. Dr. Mekaru has also led health technology teams at Epidemico and Boston Children’s Hospital, creating innovative health surveillance tools. She has published extensively on infectious disease outbreak monitoring, modeling, and surveillance. Dr. Mekaru holds a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Tufts University and a PhD in epidemiology from Boston University.

Justin McIntosh is an experienced professional with 10+ years in management and 8+ years in software engineering. Currently, he is the Vice President of Operations at The Public Health Company. His journey began in college when he co-founded Safe Site, a utility services company, which expanded to operations in three states with over 300 employees. After a successful exit, he founded Docusite, a construction risk management application, diving into software engineering. Despite challenges with Docusite, Justin’s passion for technology led him to various roles before landing at The Public Health Company.


In his current role, Justin is tackling the challenging task of improving operations in a remote environment. He is dedicated to his role and is always open to sharing experiences and insights. He is committed to nurturing effective teams, improving operations, and shaping innovative solutions. His focus is on creating a positive, growth-oriented environment and mentoring emerging leaders, reflecting his commitment to collective success.

Lori Sutton is the Vice President of Marketing at The Public Health Company. She is a strategic marketing visionary and global brand leader with 20+ years of progressive experience in B2B/B2C SaaS software marketing in large enterprise and SMB markets. She has expertise in leading strategy development, overhauling brands, launching products and driving growth in target verticals. Prior to joining PHC, Lori was the Vice President of Marketing and Growth at SMS-Magic, where she led the global GTM strategy, orchestrated a brand overhaul, developed new messaging and positioning and launched revenue generating campaigns. Lori held marketing and management roles at Model N, Bullet Point Network, Saba and other SaaS software companies where she focused on marketing strategy, business objectives and analytics to drive revenue.

Lori holds an MFA from California Institute of the Arts, a BFA from Virginia Commonwealth University, an Executive Education in Corporate Strategy at Harvard Business School and continues coursework at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Craig Katsuyama is the Vice President of Administrative Services at PHC. He brings extensive experience building companies from the ground up and was instrumental to the launch of IEX Group in 2012, which challenged the status quo of financial markets and created an entirely new stock exchange that works for all investors. Craig spent the last eight years at IEX where he built and oversaw the accounting and finance teams before transitioning to help establish IEX’s Event Stream business, a data messaging platform that applies IEX’s core technology to areas outside of finance. Craig graduated from Mount Allison University in New Brunswick, Canada with a Bachelor of Commerce in Accounting and Economics.

Dr. David Fisk is the Chief Medical Officer at The Public Health Company. Prior to joining PHC, Dr. Fisk served as an Infectious Disease Specialist at Sansum Clinic.  He serves as the Medical Director of Infection Prevention and Control at Cottage Health, leading the infection control team at Cottage, working with physicians and hospital leaders on the COVID Incident Command Center to ensure the highest level of preparation and care for patients. In early March 2020, before the first confirmed COVID-19 case in Santa Barbara County, Dr. Fisk advised that the virus was already spreading locally before community members were observing symptoms.


Dr. Fisk completed his medical degree from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and his Internal Medicine residency and Infectious Diseases fellowship at University of Michigan Medical Center. He is board certified in Infectious Diseases and a Fellow of the Infectious Diseases Society of America.

Chris Latko is the Chief Technology Officer at PHC. He joined as a Principal Software Architect where he played a key role in building out the platform. He has over 25 years experience in the technology sector holding positions at companies he started, Fortune 500 companies, and a multitude of startups both in the United States and Japan. He has spent the last decade designing, refining, and reimplementing architectures for hypergrowth startups such as Boxfish, Paxata (acquired by DataRobot), Banjo, and Globality. Chris earned two patents for designing a streaming data ingestion/data normalization platform.

Kendall Burman serves as PHC’s General Counsel and Chief Operating Officer. Prior to joining PHC, Burman held leadership roles at Alloy, a data and technology start-up for the progressive political market. Burman previously served as the Deputy General Counsel for Strategic Initiatives at the Department of Commerce and as Associate White House Counsel and Special Assistant to the President in the Obama Administration. She was also a counsel in the cybersecurity and data privacy practice at Mayer Brown and served as Chief Staff Counsel for President Obama’s 2008 campaign.


Burman is a graduate of Bowdoin College and received her J.D. from the University of Chicago where she was an editor of the law review. She was also was a fellow at both the New America Foundation and the Center for Democracy and Technology.

Dr. Charity Dean is the CEO, Founder and Chairman of The Public Health Company, a venture-backed Silicon Valley technology startup. 


In August 2020 Dr. Dean founded PHC, envisioning a commercial-grade global biosecurity platform to empower enterprises to manage biorisk at scale. Dr. Dean’s obsession with building a new solution was born out of 24 years in public health and the recognition that Silicon Valley innovations in artificial intelligence and machine learning could birth this entirely new capability. Two years later PHC PharosTM is a game-changer for numerous businesses providing real-time, dynamic risk management across their global footprint and assets. 


Dr. Dean founded PHC having served as the Assistant Director for the California Department of Public Health where she was part of the executive team under Governor Newsom running the COVID-19 pandemic response. She co-founded and co-chaired California’s COVID-19 Testing Task Force and under her leadership, California went from ranking last in the nation for testing to first in three months. In 2019, Dr. Dean served as Acting State Public Health Officer overseeing 4,300 staff with an annual operating budget of $3.5 billion. 


Before her move to statewide office, she served as the Public Health Officer for Santa Barbara County and oversaw a myriad of disease outbreaks and biological threats; she also served as attending physician for TB, HIV, and homeless medicine at the Santa Barbara Health Care Centers. 


Dr. Dean was awarded Physician of the Year in 2018 by the Central Coast Medical Association and honored as one of the Women of the Year by the California State Legislature.


Dr. Dean is a co-author of Lessons from the COVID War. Her work during the pandemic is the focus of Michael Lewis’ book The Premonition. Dr. Dean has shared her insights about the danger of biological threats and the changes we must make before the next crisis in a number of interviews and podcasts.


Dr. Dean holds a Doctor of Medicine and Master of Public Health and Tropical Medicine from Tulane University and a Bachelor of Science in Microbiology from Oregon State University.

We are excited to show you the PHC Pharos Platform in action!

Enter your contact information and we'll reach out to schedule a demo.

Scroll to Top