To Claim the Pandemic Was Predictable Is Revisionist Thinking

Helen Branswell, the infectious-diseases reporter for Stat, in Boston, was one of the first reporters to closely cover the spread of the coronavirus in the U.S. She also knows how much we missed.

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The coronavirus pandemic has already altered daily life beyond recognition. It will shape our lives for years to come, mostly in ways that are impossible to predict, let alone understand. Esquire asked twenty people to share their experiences in the first few months of the outbreak. Each of their first-person accounts is a reassurance that none of us are facing this alone. Check out the full list here.


I wrote a story todayim电竞官网- about Ebola. It’s the first time since January 7 that I’ve written about anything that wasn’t COVID-related, if that gives you any indication.

I used to be based im电竞官网-in Toronto, and I covered the SARS outbreak there, in 2003. Even now, I can remember the points at which things happened in that outbreak. To the date.

With this one,im电竞官网- I struggle to remember if something happened in like January or February; it just all seems like one long month. It’s been a bit of a blur. Time has melted.

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While on a walk one evening in April, Branswell photographed the figures that make up the Boston Women’s Memorial, which includes this sculpture of Lucy Stone, a nineteenth-century suffragist and abolitionist. “They were all wearing masks,” Branswell tweeted. “Which is more than I can say for a lot of the Bostonians.”
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At the beginning of the emergenceim电竞官网- of a new disease, there’s good reason to think that it might take time for it to adapt to efficiently infect people. The thinking would be that if you saw something early enough—and it looked like the Chinese had seen it pretty early—that you might be able to get a handle on it if you got rid of the source.

Later, it became apparent that by the time people thought this thing had zero problem moving from animals to humans, it was already a human pathogen.


  • December 31: Date she first publicly mentioned the virus, on Twitter
  • Her tweet: “Hopefully this is nothing out of the ordinary. But a @ProMED_mail posting about ‘unexplained pneumonias’ in China is giving me #SARS flashbacks.”
  • 41: Number of COVID-19 stories she’d written by the time Trump declared a national emergency, on March 13

    It wasn’t immediately clear that this was going to be a pandemic. People who say that—that’s revisionist thinking.

    You might say, “Well, everybody should have been focused on being ready.” Before then, probably. I do think people moved too slowly. I also think there was some denial involved.

    It became clear when China locked down Wuhan [on January 23]. They were effectively crippling their economy. Nobody does that if you can avoid it.

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