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WIRED interviewed Anne Rimoin, UCLA Fielding School of Public Health professor of epidemiology, about the scope of the response, one year into the pandemic
Around this time last year, COVID-19—the disease that has so far killed more than 400,000 Americans and infected 25 million more—still seemed like someone else’s problem. On the last day of 2019, China’s government had confirmed that dozens of patients in the city of Wuhan were being treated for a mysterious pneumonia-like illness. Ten days later, researchers working with health authorities there published the genome of the virus that was making people sick.
That was the first story I wrote for WIRED about the coronavirus now known as SARS-CoV-2. During the first days of 2020, the scientific accomplishment of so rapidly sequencing the virus, combined with a commitment to open data sharing, was heralded as a victory for public health. That digital string of genetic code would allow researchers around the world to start making tests to detect the virus, should it show up on their country’s shores. But public health officials in the Western hemisphere didn’t appear overly worried about that possibility.
A week went by. Case counts in China rose dramatically. And the virus started to show up in new places—first Japan and Thailand, then South Korea and the United States. The World Health Organization scheduled a meeting to decide whether or not the outbreak constituted an international public health emergency. One year ago today, on January 22, 2020, I wrote another story, asking public health experts to level with me on one question: Just how bad could this thing get?