Complete Story


This Pandemic Isn’t Over

COVID-19 is still impacting countless lives

In the years after the Civil War, smallpox spread throughout the South, mainly infecting Black people. The story of an outbreak of a disease long since eradicated may seem remote from our own times. But the smallpox epidemic of the 1860s offers us a valuable, if disconcerting, clue about how epidemics end.

Terms such as pandemic and epidemic are biomedical explanations designed to define suffering and inordinate mortality, but they also have a narrative element embedded within them. They offer a beginning and an ending, characters and settings, rising action and falling action, conflicts and themes. As the Harvard historian of science Charles Rosenberg puts it, an epidemic is "an event" that has "dramaturgic form."

Epidemics, according to Rosenberg, "proceed on a stage limited in space and duration, follow a plot line of increasing and revelatory tension, move to a crisis of individual and collective character, then drift toward closure." Statistical evidence suggesting that cases are declining gives way to a narrative that an epidemic is ending. But a focus on the overall number of cases may fail to attend to the fact that those who are continuing to get infected are typically the most marginalized.

Please select this link to read the complete article from The Atlantic.

Printer-Friendly Version