John Barry‘s 2005 book The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History, got new life after the COVID-19 pandemic broke last year. Over at The Washington Post, the historian of the 1918 pandemic shows us why abandoning masks right now is a bad idea.
Here is a taste:
There is not enough data to evaluate the variants first identified in South Africa and Brazil, but whether or not they are also more lethal, one thing is certain — more variants will arise. Mutations are random. Most either make the virus so defective it can’t function or have no impact at all. But this virus has already demonstrated that it can become more deadly and evade some immune protection, making vaccines less effective. If we allow the virus additional opportunities to mutate, it will have more opportunities to become the worst version of itself.
There is no reason to expect that this virus will suddenly turn into 1918. There are limits as to how far it can mutate. But the more people who abandon masks and social distancing, the more infections can be expected — and the more variants will emerge.
In gambling terms: If you roll the dice once, yes, there is only a 2.77 percent chance you will hit snake eyes. But if you roll the dice 100,000 times, it is virtually certain snake eyes will come up several thousand times.
Right now, policymakers are making decisions that will limit — or expand — opportunities for the virus to spread and mutate. Most proposals will require weighing costs, benefits and risks, such as when and how much to reopen the economy or delaying second doses of vaccines.
Wearing masks requires none of these calculations.
Read the entire piece here.