Larry Brilliant on How Well We Are Fighting Covid-19
An epidemiologist weighs in on what we must do to defeat this threat
It seems like a century ago that I first interviewed Larry Brilliant about the novel coronavirus. But it’s been just a little over three months since I spoke to then-75-year-old Brilliant, an epidemiologist who aided in the eradication of smallpox, and who for years has been warning the world of a pandemic that looks very much like the one we have now. (One of the tools in sounding the alarm was the movie Contagion, for which Brilliant was an adviser.) In that interview, he was able to provide clarity, gravity, and even a measure of hope to our unique and terrifying circumstances. The response was tremendous; it was the second-most-read story in the history of WIRED.
Brilliant’s vita includes roles with the World Health Organization, Google, and the Grateful Dead, but his life’s work has been anticipating and dealing with pandemics. (He is currently CEO of Pandefense Advisory, a team of experts assisting in responses to the coronavirus.) So it was vital that I return for a second conversation, to update what is both the biggest story of our time and the most baffling.
Brilliant reminded me that since our first conversation, he turned 76, an age, he notes, that provides unattractive odds should SARS-Cov-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, invade his cells. He wears masks, of course, and seldom ventures outside his Marin County, California, home. It was there that I reached him by phone to speak about the tragic course of the pandemic, what we’ve learned and haven’t learned, and how we still might be able to one day—eventually—recapture normality. I also learned about a possible curse of those who provided the science for Contagion. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.
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