For a moment’s respite from pandemic news that can seem unrelentingly bad, cast your mind into the future — say, to November 2021.
A world in suspended animation has awakened at last. The pandemic has subsided. New cases of COVID-19 are a rarity.
In the United States, the death toll is just under half a million. As awful as that number is, it might have been worse.
Masks are still a common sight, but they no longer incite fisticuffs among strangers.
Schools have done away with their hybrid instruction models and have embraced in-class learning with a new enthusiasm. Students who were never able to participate fully in remote learning are slowly catching up.
Parents who have put their careers on hold to facilitate home learning are returning to the world of paid work.
Movie theaters are open, and although they allow unrelated patrons to sit next to each other, plenty of seats remain empty. It’s the same in church. Congregants may sit close to each other, but few do. No one shakes hands. Sharing communion is, even more than in the old days, a leap of faith.
The Minnesota State Fair got through the pandemic with only a single missed year, although 2021 attendance is down as some people remain cautious.
The wedding business is massively busy. Airlines are offering deep discounts to restart the travel industry. Public transportation is back to its old standards of service; a bus schedule that once seemed bare-bones now feels lavish.
Theater artists and musicians are coming back to work. There are fewer of them now, as well as fewer venues to employ them.
People are rushing to get therapy, massages, chiropractic care, dental work, elective surgeries. Yoga classes, A.A. meetings, restaurants and bars are filled to capacity. Especially the bars.
This thumbnail-sized tour of one possible future is only that. It isn’t the best of the imaginable futures, and it is very far from the worst. To get there, as esteemed New York Times writer Donald G. McNeil Jr. reported this week, some things that have been going right will need to continue to do so.
First, the vaccines that President Donald Trump keeps promising are right around the corner may, in fact, be close. His “warp speed” effort to funnel federal funds into the research effort appears to have borne fruit. Whether the American people can be persuaded to get one of the vaccines may be an open question, but that’s a matter of politics and communication, not science.
Second, the therapies that helped Trump recover from his case of COVID-19 may hold promise for the wider population. Monoclonal antibodies, if they can be made available and affordable, could prove to be a faster and more effective tool than vaccines. Scientists are also seeking a “super antibody” that could fight not only this coronavirus but others that will probably come along.
Third, so-called “genomic epidemiology” could boost America’s ability to fight infectious disease. If U.S. researchers can quickly identify genetic markers of different virus strains, they can make contact tracing smarter and more effective.
Ultimately, the pain we’ve been through must be harnessed to move the country toward a more serious and responsible approach to public health. The next administration should set to work restoring the pandemic-response unit that once existed under the National Security Council. It should suspend the process of withdrawing the United States from the World Health Organization. And it should strive to restore the CDC to its former status as an independent, science-driven authority working on behalf of the public health.
It’s all possible. Keep the faith. And keep wearing your mask.