The AtlanticThe Atlantic

We’re Already Barreling Toward the Next Pandemic

By Ed Yong

29 Sep 2021 · 19 min read

A year after the United States bombed its pandemic performance in front of the world, the Delta variant opened the stage for a face-saving encore. If the U.S. had learned from its mishandling of the original SARS-CoV-2 virus, it would have been better prepared for the variant that was already ravaging India.

Instead, after a quiet spring, President Joe Biden all but declared victory against SARS-CoV-2. The CDC ended indoor masking for vaccinated people, pitting two of the most effective interventions against each other. As cases fell, Abbott Laboratories, which makes a rapid COVID-19 test, discarded inventory, canceled contracts, and laid off workers, The New York Times reported. Florida and Georgia scaled back on reporting COVID-19 data, according to Kaiser Health News. Models failed to predict Delta’s early arrival. The variant then ripped through the U.S.’s half-vaccinated populace and once again pushed hospitals and health-care workers to the brink. Delta’s extreme transmissibility would have challenged any nation, but the U.S. nonetheless set itself up for failure. Delta was an audition for the next pandemic, and one that America flubbed. How can a country hope to stay 10 steps ahead of tomorrow’s viruses when it can’t stay one step ahead of today’s?

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