Rational panic, but also rational hope

Finally, there is hope in the fact that the impressive containment achieved so far in East Asia has been accomplished with a variety of different policies, different degrees of lockdown and distancing, but one major commonality: the widespread use of masks. Fearing shortages and panic, Western experts have downplayed the effectiveness of masking. But the circumstantial evidence of Western versus Asian epidemic curves and the direct evidence of multiple studies suggest that masking works, and that its widespread adoption can change an epidemic’s course.

That path can’t be taken until American mask production outstrips shortages — although even homemade masks are reasonably effective — and I wouldn’t expect a masking norm to ever become universal in America. (During the Spanish Flu, a Bay Area mask ordinance was eventually repealed under the influence of the “Anti-Mask League of San Francisco.”) But you could see masks becoming ubiquitous in the densest areas, essentially required of air travelers and commuters, and normalized for supermarket and mall trips even in exurbia.

These three hopeful signs together hint at a path back toward quasi-normalcy. The current shutdown bends infection curves relatively quickly, outside a few major urban outbreaks.