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COVID Transmissions Year Three
A rebranding and a new approach
I’d like to write to you today about the future of this newsletter. No, I’m not shutting it down. But things will be changing.
You may have noticed that I went on hiatus—vacation, really—for about a month. I’ve been in the UK presenting research results at a scientific meeting, and took some time off after that. I got stuck in the UK a little longer than I had planned, but it was due to structural issues of air travel and not COVID-19, so I will call that a win.
In the time since I’ve last written to you, I have done a lot of thinking about this newsletter and its future. COVID-19 is in the process of becoming a fact of life—that doesn’t mean “endemic” and that doesn’t mean it’s a threat that will have gone away. It means that it will be a threat that everyone confronts more or less continually, and my original view that this newsletter would be a temporary thing I did for a while is something I’ve had to reevaluate.
When I started, almost exactly two years ago, I thought we would need space for breaking news about COVID-19, in-depth explainers, a dedicated corrections section, a community feedback section, and then the more offbeat “pandemic life” section to help us all through the widespread business closures and furloughs that were still going on at the time. As I’ve continued to write this, I’ve realized that not all of that content is necessary and some of it even gets in the way of “the point” of this work.
Additionally, we find ourselves in a world where viruses beyond COVID-19 continue to make headlines in ways that I did not expect. Viruses that I thought I would never hear about in the healthcare system again—for example, Zika virus and polio virus—are making new headlines. Monkeypox is now a global health emergency. There is more going on than COVID-19, and I am afraid that as climate change continues to impact the interactions of humans with unusual plant and animal habitats, we are going to see more new stories about more new viruses.
For a few decades, virus news in the mainstream was almost always sensationalized. Fears over West Nile virus, Ebola virus, SARS-CoV-1, avian influenza, and others were stoked in ways that I never found appropriate. That is not to say that these viruses should not have been taken seriously, but I found the mainstream narrative generated more fear and confusion than was helpful in the short or long term.
SARS-CoV-2 has changed that. We live in a world now where the practice of global health and emerging pathogens work is a mainstream topic that is not consigned to pop novels and terrifyingly inaccurate films like Outbreak. These threats are now things we all contend with and that many people are interested in—without necessarily being panicked about.
COVID Transmissions has “grown up” in the course of that shift. I expect that we will continue to see virus-based threats, new and old, in the news, as our world changes around us. I don’t think it makes sense, any longer, for me to write about COVID exclusively. It also does not make sense for me to stop writing altogether.
I’m going to be slimming down the way the newsletter works substantially, and renaming it. “COVID Transmissions” is no longer appropriate. “Viral Transmissions,” on the other hand, is what I want to be writing for you going forward.
This means the name of the newsletter is changing—as it its URL. You have all been so incredible about spreading the newsletter to your social circles, so now when you do it, you can use this new URL of viraltransmissions.substack.com and direct people accordingly.
I will be adopting a less rigidly structured approach, so that I can spend time where it counts the most. Instead of “headlines,” we’re going to begin each issue with whatever virus-related topic I want to write to you about. And because we are a community, there will still be a space where I share things that aren’t virus-related and that come from you.
For today, I want to put this change out there and leave it at that. In the week to come, I’ll start writing under this new model to carry us into the increasingly indefinite viral future.
So for now, I will give you some greetings from what remains an undisclosed location in my apartment, and just say: Welcome to Virus Transmissions.