COVID-19 cases are rising in parts of New York City, and the mayor is threatening business and school closures. Across other parts of the United States and Western Europe, outbreaks are spiraling out of control. President Donald Trump is comparing the coronavirus pandemic to the seasonal flu on Twitter.
What month is this again? Hundreds of thousands of deaths since the pandemic began in March, we seem to be right back where we started, like passengers trapped on a demonic carousel.
Everything could still get worse. This week, Anthony Fauci warned of a new surge in cases, as Americans move from the virus-dispersing outdoors into more crowded and less-ventilated public spaces in colder months.
Or everything could get better. Thanks largely to new treatments and more knowledge about this virus, hospitalization-fatality rates have declined across Europe and the United States. As a result, new surges are less likely to re-create the springtime spike in deaths. Individuals are also far more conscientious and alert to the risks.
To build on these new advantages, American and European citizens have to embrace both empiricism and imperfection. Thinking empirically means paying attention to the collective findings of scientific experts, rather than relying on partisan cues (But the president says …) or the behavior of our friends (But my friends don’t care about …). We also have to be prepared to accept less-than-perfect solutions, such as rapid tests and masks, to bring society to a sustainable equilibrium of normalcy, rather than toggle between draconian lockdowns and ruinous free-for-alls for another year. A silver bullet may be months away, or longer. But bronze bullets abound.