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Op-ed: Looking backward can help us live and learn forward as the COVID-19 pandemic continues

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It’s too easy to lay blame.

“The epidemic in that state is surging because people won’t wear masks, wash their hands, stay home or get vaccinated!”

“Case rates are high because of the delta variant!”

“If that governor would only follow the science, we’d have had the epidemic under control by now.”

Well, maybe yes, maybe no. Although it’s easy to lay blame, it’s awfully hard to show cause-and-effect relationships between control measures and case surges in the COVID-19 pandemic. Mask-wearing, staying home and, especially, getting vaccinated are all effective ways to blunt viral spread, and the emergence of variant strains accelerates the pandemic. But an epidemic is a complicated system, with viral, human and environmental factors all interacting in nonlinear ways. Separating causality from correlation is a subtle art.

Regrettably, mainstream discourse is dominated by lazy “after this, equals because of this” reasoning that doesn’t hold up. The rooster crowing at daybreak doesn’t bring out the sun, and the lockdown at the peak of the epidemic surge didn’t necessarily lead to the decline that followed. During the 1918 Spanish flu, Philadelphia instituted social distancing measures at the local peak and experienced devastation,........

© Chicago Tribune

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