Nearly 20,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 over the past seven days. The hypercontagious U.K. variant is rapidly spreading through Florida, while a South African strain infamous for its resilience against antibodies has been spotted in California. Our government’s lackadaisical approach to genomic surveillance leaves us blind to precisely how prevalent these mutants are — and yet, even as other nations have responded to the emergence of such strains with lockdowns, our cities are reopening indoor dining just in time to accelerate their spread. Meanwhile, America’s vaccine rollout remains plagued by logistical difficulties, poor planning, and mass paranoia. As a result, many thousands of Americans are going to die prematurely in the weeks to come.
So, that’s the bad news. Fortunately, the good news is more abundant and heartening than some recent coverage of the pandemic suggests.
The emergence of new, hypervirulent COVID variants has exacerbated the difficulty of reaching herd immunity — the point at which such a high percentage of the population is incapable of transmitting the virus, it gradually dies away. In fact, as my colleague David Wallace-Wells has explained, should the most transmissible strains become dominant, herd immunity against COVID may become a mathematical impossibility. This development has (understandably) attracted much journalistic notice. But headlines lamenting herd immunity’s elusiveness are liable to mislead some lay observers. Eradicating the novel coronavirus may take centuries. But ending the COVID crisis should only take a few more months. [Continue reading…]