7 Hard and Crucial Lessons of Covid-19
An invisible virus exposes critical blind spots in science and society. But will we learn?
Plaguing the world for more than a year, the coronavirus has forced reckonings in everything from scientific understanding to heart-wrenching inequities in health care and the economy. Given the human tendency to ignore history, here, for the record, are seven vital lessons we can take from the Covid-19 pandemic, which could start benefiting us now and for generations to come.
1. Virus science just underwent a paradigm shift
Sanitizing groceries and drowning our homes with bleach was wrongheaded, in hindsight. That early advice reflected an outdated view of how the coronavirus, influenza, and other respiratory viruses spread, some of it based on experiments done in the 1930s.
Combining expertise in atmospheric chemistry, aerosol physics, and disease transmission, a few often-ignored scientists were pointing out many months ago how SARS-CoV-2, the Covid-causing coronavirus, really gets around:
“The main mode of transmission is through the air, by breathing in aerosols that contain the virus,” explains one of those experts, Jose-Luis Jimenez, PhD, a chemistry professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder. “There are zero cases where the virus has been shown to transmit [via] a surface.”
(Other researchers have echoed the absence of any documented cases of surface transmission. It may have happened, but it’s clearly not the most common means.)
Unfortunately, Jimenez and other virus-transmission experts complain, the World Health Organization and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have been slow to acknowledge the outsized role of airborne spread and to translate what leading experts have been saying since last spring into loud and clear advice.
“Millions of people have been infected because we emphasized defending ourselves against a mode of transmission that’s minor (surfaces) while ignoring the major one (air),” Jimenez tells Elemental. “Going forward, we need to realize that most or all respiratory viruses likely transmit through the air in the same way as SARS-CoV-2, and we need to…