It is now hard to imagine a world that isn’t permanently changed by coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). We don’t know whether this is an event like 9/11 or the 2008 global financial crisis—where life will mostly go back to the way it was—or whether the institutions and practices of the future will transform in ways that we can’t yet imagine. The success of the world’s scientists—along with strong political and social leadership—will determine which scenarios unfold, so it is time to focus on what we can all do to help.
And indeed, there are very important questions to answer. Will recovery from the first infection confer lasting immunity? Will the first vaccine that proves it works cause side effects that undermine its value? Will the vaccines under development trigger neutralizing antibodies? Do widely used inhibitors of angiotensin-converting enzyme promote or inhibit infection? Will the broad-spectrum antiviral drug remdesivir or viral protease inhibitors thwart the virus?
Then there are also public health and epidemiology questions. Do school closings help or hurt? What happens if hospitals become overwhelmed? If we discover an effective vaccine or drug, can enough be made and delivered to everyone? What are the long-term effects of this crisis on mental health, social well-being, and the economy? What happens when social restrictions, like those in China, are lifted?
On so many fronts, this is a battle of a lifetime and a test of our responsibilities for each other and the strength of our compassion.
Dr. Holden Thorp is provost at WUSTL, my university.