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This year, my colleague Ed Yong’s work proved unfortunately prescient. Starting in 2016, he warned that America wasn’t ready for a pandemic—and that such an outbreak under a Trump administration would play out poorly.
In 2020, when a deadly virus arrived, Ed quickly warned that the United States might end up with the worst outbreak in the world.
Today he is once again looking forward. In a new piece, he previews what year two of this outbreak may look like. It’s worth reading in full. Below are four things to expect in 2021 (as explained by Ed).
1. The vaccine rollout could be rocky.
“We are trying to plan for the most complex vaccination program in human history after a year of complete exhaustion, with a chronically underfunded infrastructure and personnel who are still responsible for measles and sexually transmitted diseases and making sure your water is clean,” [Kelly Moore of Vanderbilt University, who studies immunization policy,] said.
2. The virus could change.
What happens next with SARS-CoV-2 depends on how our immune systems react to the vaccines, and whether the virus evolves in response. Both factors are notoriously hard to predict, because the immune system (as immunologists like to remind people) is very complicated, and evolution (as biologists often note) is cleverer than you.
3. But expect some relief by the summer.
Many of the 30 epidemiologists, physicians, immunologists, sociologists, and historians whom I interviewed for this piece are cautiously optimistic that the U.S. is headed for a better summer. But they emphasized that such a world, though plausible, is not inevitable.
4. Still, this outbreak will leave long-term scars.
A pummeled health-care system will be reeling, short-staffed, and facing new surges of people with long-haul symptoms or mental-health problems. Social gaps that were widened will be further torn apart. Grief will turn into trauma. And a nation that has begun to return to normal will have to decide whether to remember that normal led to this.