So perhaps one clear lesson of our pandemic is that, when allowed, science works. Not flawlessly, and not always at a pace suited to a global emergency. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was slow to recognize the coronavirus as an airborne threat. Even now, medicine has a better grasp of how to prevent coronavirus infection — masks, social distancing, vaccination — than how to treat it. But even this is edifying. The public has been able to watch science at its messy, iterative, imperfect best, with researchers scrambling to draw conclusions in real time from growing heaps of data. Never has science been so evidently a process, more muscle than bone.
And yet still the virus spread. Travel restrictions, school closures, stay-at-home orders. Illness and isolation, anxiety and depression. Loss after loss after loss: of dear friends and family members, of employment, of the simple company of others. Last week, the C.D.C. concluded that 2020 was the deadliest year in American history. For some, this past year seemed to last a century; for far too many people, this past year was their last.