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How we all handled the pandemic: a reckoning, of sorts

Masked fifth-graders kept social distance during a music class at the Milton Elementary School in Rye, N.Y., on May 18, 2021.Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

Critique of various responses to coronavirus omits one key voice: Trump’s

Re “Before declaring a pandemic amnesty, we need a pandemic mea culpa” (Ideas, Nov. 20): I agree with Jeff Jacoby that we should “strive for less recrimination and more forgiveness,” but as he states, first we need an accounting of how we handled the COVID-19 pandemic. We should learn from the mistakes and missed opportunities to give us a better handle on future pandemics.

I think we should assume that most public officials were acting in the best interests of our public health. It would be more useful to find out why the public doesn’t believe it.

For example, consider the governors who, as Jacoby bemoans, were called murderers for not shutting down their states. Maybe the epithet is understandable. For example, if you look at South Dakota in autumn 2020, when the governor denied the risk and kept the state open, given COVID illness and death, when there was so much we didn’t know — well, people who lost loved ones could reasonably have had some pretty choice words for their governor.

But surprisingly, in his pursuit of an accounting, Jacoby fails to mention the most obvious and venal culprit of disinformation: then-president Donald Trump. He wielded the greatest podium on which to inform the public and chose not to use it. Worried that the pandemic was more of an economic problem, he peddled fraudulent remedies and false calm. All while families were ripped up.


Almost 200 years ago, Alessandro Manzoni described the official response to the plague in Milan around 1630 in his novel “The Betrothed”: “So at the beginning, no plague, absolutely not, by any count: the very utterance of the word was prohibited. Then came the ‘pestilential’ fevers, admitting the idea indirectly. . . . And then, not a real plague, well, yes, there was a plague, but only in a sense. . . . Finally, plague without a doubt and without dissent. But another idea had also taken root, the idea of poison and sorcery, which distorted and confused.”


We suffered too much death, and now we face an enduring legacy of insane conspiracy theories. Maybe Jacoby didn’t mention Trump because the former president would never admit a mistake, much less ask for forgiveness.

Amy Nadel


It’s science, and we’re still learning from it

Jeff Jacoby states who he feels should first declare a mea culpa before amnesty can be granted by society to move on from the bad feelings of the pandemic with forgiveness. He singles out Drs. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Francis Collins, former director of the National Institutes of Health.

The nature of science is to adjust our views as new research comes to light. The most recent New England Journal of Medicine finds, in a period of 15 weeks, almost 12,000 cases of COVID-19 in staff and students in those schools that lifted the mask mandate earlier than other districts in the Boston area. That is probably an underestimate and does not account for secondary spread to families, let alone the economic costs of infection.

Jacoby should perhaps abide by his own call for “scrutinizing the recent past with open minds.”

Dr. Bruce L. Ring

North Easton

The writer is a Fellow of the American College of Physicians.

Forget mea culpas — we need a thorough post-mortem

Jeff Jacoby writes, “Before there can be a reconciliation, there needs to be an accounting. Those who messed up must reckon with how they went wrong. . . . First must come a mea culpa by those who, it is now clear, were in the wrong.”


But a mea culpa is not an accounting. It is far from clear who was right and who was wrong. What is needed is a thorough post-mortem on the way COVID-19 was handled by the medical system and society as a whole. That would be far more useful than having one group of people ask another group of people to fall on their swords.

Paul Kyzivat


Demonizing individuals for their approaches adds fuel to the fire

Jeff Jacoby writes about Emily Oster’s call in The Atlantic for an end of bad feelings when it comes to COVID-19.

It is important that what was done in the United States by federal, state, and local governments be studied so that the mistakes that occurred can be corrected. However, we should not try to place blame on individuals and “well-intended zealots.”

In writing about two specific examples he calls “consequential” — the shutdown of classrooms and the contradictory scientific opinions to “resume normal life” — Jacoby shows us what we must not do: focus on specific individuals or groups. In doing just that, he adds fuel to the fire of hate and threat toward those who were doing their job in good faith.

Reviewing what happened during COVID-19 should not be about blame and forgiveness. Rather, it should be about learning and making changes to protect us in the future.


William J. Giokas