COVID-19 testing in Beijing, January 2022
Thomas Peter / Reuters

In just two years, the COVID-19 pandemic has transformed how societies understand public health and disease. It has made previously esoteric epidemiological terms such as “flattening the curve,” “mRNA vaccines,” “rapid antigen tests,” and “variants of concern” the stuff of everyday conversation. But it has also drawn attention to the limits of epidemiological expertise and precision. The Delta variant, which swept through the United States last summer, confounded the hope that mass vaccination would bring the pandemic to an end—and made U.S. President Joe Biden’s declaration of imminent victory over the virus in July 2021 seem hubristically premature.

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