Six months after the novel coronavirus first leaped from animals to people in Wuhan, China, and three months after the virus began spreading across the United States, scientists are finally beginning to understand the overall shape of the pandemic.
Drawing samples from tens of thousands of COVID-19 patients and decoding the samples’ genomes, scientists are making so-called “phylogenetic” maps of the pandemic over time. The maps help researchers start to answer some important questions.
How did SARS-CoV-2 spread in the absence of travel bans and stay-at-home orders? How did transmission patterns change once countries, regions and cities finally began shutting down? What effect have the shut-downs had on the virus’ mutation? The answers could help inform ongoing efforts by governments, hospitals and businesses to contain the virus and treat its victims. They could also help public-health officials write the playbook for the next global pandemic response. Assuming, that is, that people actually want to learn from the current crisis.