By Charlie Warzel, April 13, 2020
Many Americans have been living under lockdown for a month or more. We’re all getting antsy. The president is talking about a “light at the end of the tunnel.” People are looking for hope and reasons to plan a return to something — anything — approximating normalcy. Experts are starting to speculate on what lifting restrictions will look like. Despite the relentless, heroic work of doctors and scientists around the world, there’s so much we don’t know.
We don’t know how many people have been infected with Covid-19.
We don’t know the full range of symptoms.
We don’t always know why some infections develop into severe disease.
We don’t know the full range of risk factors.
We don’t know exactly how deadly the disease is.
We don’t have answers to more detailed questions about how the virus spreads, including: “How many virus particles does it even take to launch an infection? How far does the virus travel in outdoor spaces, or in indoor settings? Have these airborne movements affected the course of the pandemic?”
We don’t know for sure how this coronavirus first emerged.
We don’t know how much China has concealed the extent of the coronavirus outbreak in that country.
We don’t know what percentage of adults are asymptomatic. Or what percentage of children are asymptomatic.
We don’t know the strength and duration of immunity. Though people who recover from Covid-19 likely have some degree of immunity for some period of time, the specifics are unknown.
We don’t yet know why some who’ve been diagnosed as “fully recovered” from the virus have tested positive a second time after leaving quarantine.
We don’t know why some recovered patients have low levels of antibodies.
We don’t know the long-term health effects of a severe Covid-19 infection. What are the consequences to the lungs of those who survive intensive care?
We don’t yet know if any treatments are truly effective. While there are many therapies in trials, there are no clinically proven therapies aside from supportive care.
We don’t know for certain if the virus was in the United States before the first documented case.
We don’t know when supply chains will strengthen to provide health care workers with enough masks, gowns and face shields to protect them.
In America, we don’t know the full extent to which black people are disproportionately suffering. Fewer than a dozen states have published data on the race and ethnic patterns of Covid-19.
We don’t know if people will continue to adhere to social distancing guidelines once infections go down.
We don’t know when states will be able to test everyone who has symptoms.
We don’t know if the United States could ever deploy the number of tests — as many as 22 million per day — needed to implement mass testing and quarantining.
We don’t know if we can implement “test and trace” contact tracing at scale.
We don’t know whether smartphone location tracking could be implemented without destroying our privacy.
We don’t know if or when researchers will develop a successful vaccine.
We don’t know how many vaccines can be deployed and administered in the first months after a vaccine becomes available.
We don’t know how a vaccine will be administered — who will get it first?
We don’t know if a vaccine will be free or costly.
We don’t know if a vaccine will need to be updated every year.
We don’t know how, when we do open things up again, we will do it.
We don’t know if people will be afraid to gather in crowds.
We don’t know if people will be too eager to gather in crowds.
We don’t know what socially distanced professional sports will look like.
We don’t know what socially distanced workplaces will look like.
We don’t know what socially distanced bars and restaurants will look like.
We don’t know when schools will reopen.
We don’t know what a general election in a pandemic will look like.
We don’t know what effects lost school time will have on children.
We don’t know if the United States’s current and future government stimulus will stave off an economic collapse.
We don’t know whether the economy will bounce back in the form of a “v curve” …
Or whether it’ll be a long recession.
We don’t know when any of this will end for good.
There is, at present, no plan from the Trump White House on the way forward.
We’re working on a project about the ways people’s lives might be permanently altered by the coronavirus, even after the pandemic subsides. In what ways do you think your life will change in the long term? What will be your new “normal”?