A reflection on what we've failed to learn from past pandemics

Would COVID-19 have caught the world so off guard if we had taken lessons from past pandemics? Probably not, as our cover story explains.

It’s apparently humankind’s fate never to stop writing the history of pandemics. No matter how often they occur—and they do occur with great frequency—we collectively refuse to think about them until circumstances demand it.

Then, when the immediate crisis passes, we put it out of our minds as quickly as possible. And so we again are unprepared when the next contagion—in this case, COVID-19—bursts upon us.

Richard Conniff traces this alarming cycle in “How devastating pandemics change us,” this month’s cover story. It examines our long relationship with infectious diseases, from the hard lessons we’ve been forced to learn to the brave, and often difficult, characters who’ve risked their lives to save us.

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