(March 8) The pandemic expert who has been right about COVID-19 all along, especially about how bad it would be, is finally “pretty optimistic” that the worst is behind us. Still, he warns that “overconfidence is always a killer.”

John Barry, the author of the definitive history of the 1918 influenza pandemic and a faculty member of the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, has been remarkably prescient about the coronavirus. When I interviewed him two years ago this week, a few days before basketball teams began being pulled off courts midgame and sudden lockdowns were ordered, Barry told me the pandemic would be “very, very bad.” Against a number of armchair quarterbacks predicting fewer than 50,000 total fatalities, Barry provided math suggesting more than a million Americans eventually would die from it. He was right: As of today, at least 959,000 Americans have perished from the disease, with death numbers still growing at 10,000 per week.

Exactly 52 weeks later, with numerous prominent commentators pronouncing the pandemic effectively “over,” I summarized Barry’s then-message like this: “Don’t get complacent about COVID-19 because the mutants are coming.” And: “The variants we have seen so far are not the last variants we’re going to see.”

Sure enough, the triumphalists were wrong and Barry was correct: The delta variant began spreading wildly in June of last year, and the omicron variant began its rampage in late November. In the one full year since Barry warned the variants might “outrace” the effectiveness of vaccines, another 432,000 Americans have died from the virus (after 527,000 in the first year).

That’s why it is encouraging now to hear Barry say, “I think we’re in a good place. If I were under 50, which I’m not, I would be pretty relaxed right now.”

He said that the combination of vaccines, immunities developed by the 80 million Americans who already had COVID-19, and the growing availability of treatments such as Paxlovid mean the disease probably is finally containable….[The full column is here.]


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