How Pandemics EndHistorians in the News
tags: public health, pandemics, medical history
When will the Covid-19 pandemic end? And how?
According to historians, pandemics typically have two types of endings: the medical, which occurs when the incidence and death rates plummet, and the social, when the epidemic of fear about the disease wanes.
“When people ask, ‘When will this end?,’ they are asking about the social ending,” said Dr. Jeremy Greene, a historian of medicine at Johns Hopkins.
In other words, an end can occur not because a disease has been vanquished but because people grow tired of panic mode and learn to live with a disease. Allan Brandt, a Harvard historian, said something similar was happening with Covid-19: “As we have seen in the debate about opening the economy, many questions about the so-called end are determined not by medical and public health data but by sociopolitical processes.”
Endings “are very, very messy,” said Dora Vargha, a historian at the University of Exeter. “Looking back, we have a weak narrative. For whom does the epidemic end, and who gets to say?”
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