How do pandemics end? History suggests diseases fade but are almost never truly gone
Nükhet Varlik, University of South Carolina
When will the pandemic end? All these months in, with over 37 million COVID-19 cases and more than 1 million deaths globally, you may be wondering, with increasing exasperation, how long this will continue.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, epidemiologists and public health specialists have been using mathematical models to forecast the future in an effort to curb the coronvirus’s spread. But infectious disease modeling is tricky. Epidemiologists warn that “odels are not crystal balls,” and even sophisticated versions, like those that combine forecasts or use machine learning, can’t necessarily reveal when the pandemic will end or how many people will die.
As a historian who studies disease and public health, I suggest that instead of looking forward for clues, you can look back to see what brought past outbreaks to a close — or didn’t.
Where we are now in the course of the pandemic
In the early days of the pandemic, many people hoped the coronavirus would simply fade away. Some argued that it would disappear on its own with the summer heat. Others claimed that herd immunity would kick in once enough people had been infected. But none of that has happened.
A combination of public health efforts to contain and mitigate the pandemic — from rigorous testing and contact tracing to social distancing and wearing masks — have been proven to help.
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