The Latest: We need to think about the next pandemic


Dear Reader,

While it’s the job of scientists and leaders to slow the spread of Covid-19, search for therapies, and hopefully develop a vaccine, once the threat of Covid-19 recedes — and it will, one day — society will still be vulnerable to novel infectious diseases that spill over from animals to people. And it’s critical to understand which animals (ahem, bats) are the most likely reservoirs of new viruses.

It may seem ridiculous to consider a future pandemic in this moment, but it’s actually incredibly important. If there’s a point to be drawn from this nightmare, perhaps it’s that there are major holes in the world’s pandemic response. The United States, for example, is a hole. There are still testing backlogs and, once again, some health experts don’t have access to PPE. But as health policy expert Andy Slavitt wrote this week, “We are always four to six weeks from being able to do what countries around the world have done.”

Speaking of what could be done differently, we’d like to hear more from you about how you’d better prepare your pre-pandemic self. Scroll down for a chance to be featured on our blog.

Follow our Medium Coronavirus Blog for regular updates, and read some of the essential stories we’ve curated below.

Be well,
Alexandra Sifferlin
Editor, Medium Coronavirus Blog

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What we’re talking about this week

💰 The scams and misinformation continue. Yet another video of doctors arguing in favor of hydroxychloroquine (which has shown to be ineffective for Covid-19) went viral, and was shared by millions of people including the president of the United States. Here’s a great debunking of the video’s claims. NPR reports that there are over 100 supplements for sale on Amazon that have false claims, and Facebook is under fire for the dissemination of Covid-19 misinformation. “We’ve reached the hex/talisman phase of the pandemic,” one of my blog colleagues remarked. When misinformation comes from science and medical professionals, it’s especially depressing. Here’s what one medical ethicist says can be done.

📏 How did we land on the six-feet rule? A common question about pandemic guidelines is how scientists and health officials settled on six-feet as the ideal length for physical distancing. It turns out that experts used to recommend people stay three feet apart to avoid respiratory illnesses. But during the SARS epidemic, epidemiologists realized that three feet might not be enough, Markham Heid reports this week. This led to the more conservative six-foot recommendation. Read more here.

☹️ It’s not like this in other places. This week Yasmin Tayag wrote about Canada, where she’s from, and how the country appears to be handling the pandemic much better than the United States. It’s been successful — though there’s still room for improvement — through lots of testing, swift lockdowns, and high levels of trust in science leaders. One of the more frustrating aspects of the pandemic is that it’s clear there are ways to return to a sense of normalcy (not “normal,” but normal-ish) through widespread testing and contract tracing. Instead, the U.S. is taking an approach that seems to be drawing out the pandemic for longer. (Did you see this video of people from around the world reacting to the U.S. Covid-19 response?). If you live outside the U.S., please consider sharing your pandemic experience on Medium.

✍️ What would you do differently? Speaking of a return to normalcy (or normal-ish), it’s clear that Covid-19 is not going away anytime soon. There needs to be a shift in mindset that allows us to live in this new normal for potentially a very long time. If you knew from the very beginning that the pandemic was going to last over six months (and likely much longer) would you do anything different? Are they things you do in your day-to-day, or mental hacks you embrace, that allow you to feel more resilient right now? Please feel free to share them with me, as I’d like to write about this next week. Email me at

Some smart reads:

6 Feet Apart Is the Gold Standard, but Should It Be?

All About EIDD-2801: A Little Known but Promising Covid-19 Drug

An Aging Immune System May Explain Why Covid-19 is so Harmful to the Elderly

Black Women Are Reclaiming Their Identity Through ‘Covid Cuts’

Read This Before You Visit an Amusement Park, Museum, or Zoo



Alexandra Sifferlin
Medium Coronavirus Blog

Health and science journalist. Former editor of Medium’s Covid-19 Blog and deputy editor at Elemental. TIME Magazine writer before that