Program Success Magazine Fall 2020 | Page 31

Our understanding of COVID-19 , the disease caused by the coronavirus , has also evolved . It ’ s become clear that , though it primarily affects the lungs , it can damage hearts , brains , blood vessels , and other organs . It can also linger , creating a growing cohort of “ long-haulers ” who continue to experience symptoms weeks , even months , after infection . One study of hospitalized patients found that nearly ninety percent still experienced at least one symptom - most commonly fatigue or shortness of breath - two months after getting sick . Another study of non-hospitalized people who had tested positive for the coronavirus found that , weeks later , more than a third had not returned to their usual state of health . Among younger Americans without chronic medical problems , one in five continued to have symptoms .
In all of these ways , we ’ ve taken a more accurate measure of our foe . But there are still many unanswered questions - among them , how long immunity lasts . SARS-CoV-2 has not turned out to be a champion mutator in the vein of influenza or H . I . V . Still , we don ’ t know whether immunity to the virus will wane with time , allowing previously infected people to become susceptible to it again . The answer has huge implications for individual behavior , public policy , and vaccine efficacy . So far , less than a year into the pandemic , there ’ s no evidence of widespread repeat infections . But infections of most respiratory viruses , including other coronaviruses , do not confer lifelong immunity — and it ’ s too early to tell with SARS-CoV-2 .
Even as we continue to learn about the virus , there ’ s a sense in which we already know what we need to know - and have known for some time . For months , we ’ ve known the essential steps to containing the virus : testing , tracing , masks , and distance . We also know that , as bad as things have been , it ’ s possible for them to get worse . In many parts of the country , winter will soon close off opportunities to dine and gather outdoors , forcing us inside , where the virus is more likely to spread . One widely cited model has the American COVID-19 death toll doubling to four hundred thousand by January , 2021 . That outcome is far from inevitable , but escaping it will require a more thorough and united approach to the pandemic than we ’ ve managed to date . It will require us to act more effectively on what we know .
Moments of tragedy are also moments of possibility . We search for meaning in grief , hoping to find some purpose in our suffering , or at least some reassurance that we will emerge stronger and more prepared in the future . In the past , catastrophes , both natural and man-made , have led to new ideas , laws , and cultural and political paradigms . Social Security , food stamps , and a more robust safety net emerged from the Great Depression . In mid-century America , people hoping to report an emergency had to find and dial a local phone number or ask for an operator , leading to delays , confusion , and needless tragedy ; the gruesome murder of Kitty Genovese - which , at the time , was said to have been witnessed by thirty-eight people , none of whom called the police - was partly responsible for the invention of the 911 system we use today . In the nineteen-sixties , the U . S . recorded about twice as many car-crash fatalities per person as it does now ( in some years , more than fifty-two thousand people died ); then came seat belts , airbags , and the enforcement of drunk-driving laws .
Viktor Frankl , the famed psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor , once said that “ everybody in the midst of suffering is given a chance to bear testimony of the human potential at its best , which is to turn a personal tragedy into a human triumph .” The monumental loss of life during the coronavirus pandemic so far could push us toward a better future . It could help restore a belief in independent science and competent government . It may help us value the essential work performed by society ’ s most marginalized people . And it could lead us to create a public-health infrastructure that spares future generations of Americans a similar fate in the inevitable pandemics to come .
Program Success 31 Fall 2020