My first impulse was to end this course in Modern Virus with a compare and contrast with the last major global pandemic, that of about one hundred years ago in 1918 when the Spanish Flu ripped through the world. By that pandemic’s end a year later, an estimated one-third of the planet’s population, or 500 million people, had caught the virus. An estimated 20 to 50 million people died. Armed with only cotton masks and a rudimentary knowledge of viruses, there was really no effective way to fight the spread of the disease and the world just had to ride it out until people had either died, or developed immunity to it.
In contrast, fast forward to our Modern Pandemic in 2020. With our better communication, industrialization, zoomification, internetification and medical education, we have a lot of tools to do better than in 1918. And we are doing better, by a huge margin if the 1918 statistics are the yardstick by which we measure. As of this writing in May 2020, globally there have been about 4 million Covid-19 infections, only about 0.05% of the world’s population, and 300 thousand deaths from Covid-19 worldwide (WHO statistics), a tiny fraction of the 1918 pandemic fatalities. The 2020 numbers will of course go higher before the Covid-19 pandemic ends with either a vaccine or herd immunity, but they will never come close to the 1918 Spanish Flu numbers. Any outcome would look good by comparison to that devastating outbreak. Using them is, perhaps, the wrong measuring stick.
So just how do we measure our effectiveness in fighting against this Modern Pandemic then? And is it worth the mental, physical and economic cost we are currently paying? I don’t think there are data yet to an answer those questions and possibly never will be. Who decides whose life is worth what? How much economic loss is bearable by a country? What is the fastest, safest, and surest road back to a New Normal? Around the world, each country, state, province, county and city is taking a different path in the fight against Covid-19. Essentially these are thousands of different medical trials running in real time on real lives. It will be years before the data and outcomes are able to be analyzed to glean a better understanding of what worked and what did not. Hopefully, the answers will be found before the next global pandemic hits. Meantime, I keep my family close, my mask closer, and keep wash, wash, washing my hands.
Submitted by Margaret Ma, Santa Clara County
Editor’s Note: This is one of a series. The links to all twelve parts are: Syllabus, Lesson 1, Lesson 2, Lesson 3, Lesson 4, Lesson 5, Lesson 6, Lesson 7, Lesson 8, Lesson 9, Lesson 10, and Final Exam.