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Opinion | The Pandemic Lessons We Clearly Haven’t Learned

I remember thinking, as Covid ravaged the country in December 2020, that at least the holidays the next year would be better. There would be more vaccines, more treatments, more immunity. Instead, we got Omicron and a confusing new phase of the pandemic. What do you do with a variant that is both monstrously more infectious and somewhat milder? What do you say about another year when we didn’t have enough tests, enough ventilation or the best guidance on masks? And how do you handle the fracturing politics of a changing pandemic in an exhausted country?

Zeynep Tufekci is a sociologist and New York Times Opinion columnist who does a better job than almost anyone at assessing the pandemic at a systems level. To solve a public-health crisis, it’s not enough to get the science right. There are also challenges with supply chains, infrastructure, research production, mass communication, political trust and institutional inertia. I’ve found Tufekci’s ability to balance the epidemiological data and the sociological realities uniquely helpful across the pandemic, and you can hear why in this conversation.

[You can listen to this episode of “The Ezra Klein Show” on Apple, Spotify, Google or wherever you get your podcasts.]

We discuss how the Covid crisis has changed, as well as Tufekci’s sobering conclusion: that the virus, at this point, is feeding on our dysfunction. We look at what Omicron is and isn’t, where the Biden administration has succeeded and failed, the debate over closing schools, why so many Asian countries have so powerfully outperformed the West, how the role of vaccines has changed, what a pandemic-prepared society would actually look like, and what should be true of our pandemic policy in a year that isn’t now.

You can listen to our whole conversation by following “The Ezra Klein Show” on Apple, Spotify, Google or wherever you get your podcasts. View a list of book recommendations from our guests here.

(A full transcript of the episode will be available midday on the Times website.)

“The Ezra Klein Show” is produced by Annie Galvin, Jeff Geld and Rogé Karma; fact-checking by Michelle Harris, Kate Sinclair and Mary Marge Locker; original music by Isaac Jones; mixing by Jeff Geld; audience strategy by Shannon Busta. Our executive producer is Irene Noguchi. Special thanks to Kristin Lin.

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