But we’ve also learned some good things, notably just how fast biomedical innovation can move when we really try. The Food and Drug Administration found ways to speed up clinical trials without reducing their rigor. Governments used subsidies to fund development and guaranteed purchase orders to mitigate the financial risks for drug companies that used their own money. Those workarounds can’t solve every hard technological problem, but we should be looking for more problems they can solve — in or out of the world of health care.
And how about the nonmedical things we could be doing to control infectious disease? Are we going to bring handshaking back, and if so, why? Should we accelerate the arrival of a cashless, touchless payment economy, despite the loss of privacy? How much do we need to beef up the ventilation systems in public spaces? Any chance we’ll keep wearing masks on subways, in malls, in movie theaters? And if not, at the very least, can we collectively agree to stop going to work sick — even if that means more generous paid sick leave?
Of course, a lot of us might just stop going into work — or at least stop going in so much. I doubt that the office is truly over; in fact, the pandemic has highlighted the value of personal contact. But it’s easy to imagine most office workers getting their collegial fix in a couple of days a week.