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The ticker tape of the infectious disease world, ProMED, posts a steady stream of reports about unusual outbreaks.

Few cases become big news. But on the eve of 2020, STAT senior writer Helen Branswell noticed an item out of China. “Hopefully this is nothing out of the ordinary,” tweeted Branswell, who had covered the 2003 SARS outbreak in Toronto. “But a @ProMED_mail posting about “unexplained pneumonias” in China is giving me #SARS flashbacks.”


She started to dig around, and on Jan. 4, 2020, Branswell became the first journalist in the U.S. to publish a detailed report on the outbreak being caused potentially by a new coronavirus — one that would later be named SARS-CoV-2. As the country crosses the devastating threshold of 1 million Covid-19 deaths, Branswell reflects on what we’ve experienced during the two-plus years since she spotted that ProMED post.

In this video interview, she talks about the wishful thinking that led some experts to assume what was happening in China would not happen around the world; how misinformation and disinformation made the pandemic incalculably worse; the astonishing speed with which scientists developed effective vaccines; and the prospect of a changed but tolerable future.

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