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In our essay “Chronicle of a Pandemic Foretold,” for the July/August issue of Foreign Affairs, we described the struggle against COVID-19 in terms of a baseball game and estimated that the United States was in about the third inning of a nine-inning contest. At this point, however, it may be more helpful to shift to an altogether different analogy. The unfolding story of the pandemic is a three-act play, in which the country is now midway through the second act.

The first act saw the disease spread from China to the rest of the world and to a woefully unprepared United States. The second witnessed Americans tire of restrictions and effectively surrender to the pandemic. Infection rates across the country soared during the summer and will likely rise again in the autumn as schools and universities reopen. To truly get the novel coronavirus under control, the United States must do what it has not done so far: impose real and stringent lockdowns across the country for roughly two months. Controlling the spread of the disease in this way will save lives ahead of the eventual end of this drama in the pandemic’s final act—the arrival of a safe, effective vaccine.

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