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A nurse prepares to enter the sub-intensive care unit of a hospital in Rome, Italy A nurse prepares to enter the sub-intensive care unit of the San Filippo Neri hospital in Rome, Italy, Oct. 29, 2020 (AP photo by Alessandra Tarantino).

How Pandemics End: Learning the Lessons of History

Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has made everyone much better versed in basic epidemiological modeling than they were eight months ago. We have all familiarized ourselves with exhaustive data collection and the analysis of epidemic curves based on prior crises, the reproduction rates of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and the daily influx of new cases. Yet, even for professional epidemiologists, the question of when this pandemic will end has no simple answer. Certainty is a luxury rarely afforded to scientists, and this is particularly true in the world of public health.

However, we do know that pandemics do not attack indiscriminately. While we are all susceptible to pathogens, our social structures and the inequities within them shape our pandemic responses, often putting the most marginalized at greater risk. Throughout history, social inequalities, shaped in no small part by centuries of racial injustice, colonial violence and economic divides, have affected how diseases spread and who was most vulnerable to infectious pathogens. When a proper response to a health crisis has been stymied primarily by a lack of political will, then, too, have epidemics exposed the injustice in our societies. ...

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