Viewpoint: Not all the COVID news is gloomy

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Credit: Ashley Jean Reese

Clearly, the pandemic has not ended. So far some 215,000 Americans have lost their lives to the coronavirus, and reliable estimates suggest that the number could reach 400,000. Health experts agree that, with stronger leadership, the death toll would have been far lower.

Nonetheless, there is a collective accomplishment here worth acknowledging. In the Imperial College report, the authors underscored that their worst-case estimate would almost certainly not be realized, thanks to human nature: “It is highly likely that there would be significant spontaneous changes in population behavior even in the absence of government-mandated interventions.”

That prediction proved true, as millions of Americans agreed, however reluctantly, to accept the sacrifices involved in shutting down parts of the economy, keeping distance from one other and wearing masks.

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Today, and despite the president’s own resistance, masks are widely accepted. Various polls show that the number of Americans who wear them, at least when entering stores, went from near zero in March to about 65 percent in early summer to 85 percent or even 90 percent in October. Seeing the president and many White House staffers stricken by the virus may convince yet more Americans to wear masks.

The slow but relentless acceptance of what epidemiologists call “non-pharmaceutical interventions” has made a huge difference in lives saved.

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