In these waning days of December, last January seems a long way off. Our family calendar for that month still talks about what was then normal: a business trip for me, theater rehearsals for our daughter, a concert by the neofolk band Heilung. My husband and I watched the show standing shoulder to shoulder with friends and strangers.
But still, the virus was coming. The first confirmed case in the United States was reported on January 21, just before that concert. Since then, the world has known that in a pandemic year, a concert hall full of thousands of people is the last place you want to be.
We know this now because scientists around the world have been dedicated to solving the mystery of SARS-CoV-2. There are so many things we don’t know yet, but we’ve learned a tremendous amount.
Many of those lessons were painful, a chronicle of misery and loss. The pandemic timeline we built for this special end-of-year issue recalls what we endured: vacationers trapped on a sick cruise, millions out of work while countries were locked up, students out of class, hospital workers drowned, people dying without the comfort of the hand of a loved one.
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The first wrong steps in public health advice are especially painful to remember, including claims that symptomatic people could not spread the disease and that masks were not needed. Also painful: the refusal of many public officials to heed the advice of scientists and the unscientific misinformation that accompanied it. How many lives could be saved if science were not attacked?
Then came news of clinical trials that have shown that various vaccines can prevent disease. On December 2, the United Kingdom became the first Western country to approve a vaccine. The United States is about to follow at the end of the year. As a journalist, I looked with skepticism at the promises of vaccines for the new year. Now that it looks like scientists have achieved this amazing feat, I couldn’t be happier to prove to me that it’s wrong.
It’s not the end of the story, of course. Although these vaccines are as reliable as clinical trials suggest, there will be major logistical challenges in the distribution and overcoming of mistrust in vaccines, especially among the black and Hispanic communities most affected by coronavirus.
Given how disruptive the pandemic year was, it’s remarkable to look back and see how long “regular” life lasted. While we did everything to cover the pandemic, we also continued to cover all the sciences, as we have done since 1921. Those articles on gravitational waves and space launches and flying snakes, and many others, brought me the joy of discovery, day after day. day.
The pandemic still rages; we have a lot more work to do. I am very proud of the extraordinary efforts of our Science News team to provide them with accurate breaking news, as well as the deepest context, in the midst of a global crisis. We will continue that work. I hope that in a year we will look back in 2021 as one more year of scientific discovery and achievement, and the year we domesticated the virus.