There will be no dramatic end to the pandemic, but we can at least look for these four signs that it’s under control

Photo: San Francisco Chronicle/Hearst Newspapers/Getty Images

After a dark, lonely winter — when cases of Covid-19 ravaged the globe, surpassing 2 million deaths in mid-January, and with new variants cropping up — we seem to have begun emerging from the absolute worst. Spring’s fate is up in the air, but the ramped-up vaccine program under the new administration is sending hopeful signals. Seeing more and more friends and family posting vaccine selfies on social media amid climbing vaccination rates makes the end of the pandemic feel a little more tangible, in some ways.

But when we say “the end,” what exactly do we mean?

It’s challenging…


The Senior Community Center on Bainbridge Island, Washington, where on January 29, 2021, volunteers staffed a coronavirus vaccine clinic. Photos: Jovelle Tamayo for Elemental

How Bainbridge Island’s Medical Reserve Corp is making sure not a single dose goes to waste

The early morning drizzle stopped just as Loren Bast parked his car outside the senior community center on Bainbridge Island in Washington state on a Friday in late January. He strode purposefully inside and put on a reflective blue vest over his maroon jacket.

Bast, the executive director of Bainbridge Prepares — a mutual aid organization dedicated to building community resilience — has been… busy, to say the least. Since the end of December, he’s been leading the vaccine rollout in Bainbridge and the surrounding Kitsap County with the island’s volunteer-run Medical Reserve Corps.

In the aftermath of the 9/11…


Yazzie, 31, is one of eight women helping run the health clinic in Navajo Mountain, a chapter of the Navajo Nation that straddles the border of Arizona and Utah. Photography by Sharon Chischilly for Elemental

Roxanna Yazzie works long hours to keep her community safe from Covid-19

Even in winter, when temperatures drop to below freezing and the dirt roads are coated in snow or ice, Roxanna Yazzie slings her clinic badge over her down jacket, pulls up the hood of her green jacket, and makes for work.


Some men say Covid-19 is hitting them below the belt

Illustration: George Wylesol

When Steven Bell caught Covid-19 this spring, he was surprised that he didn’t have a fever. Rather, it felt like a bad sinus infection. Soon, he lost his sense of smell, and went on to develop insomnia. He felt like the virus was also affecting his circulation, and would swing his arms in circles to keep the blood flowing. Then, more bafflingly, when he and his wife were intimate, he couldn’t get an erection. “It was frustrating and infuriating for me, because I knew it wasn’t working the way it should,” said Bell, a 49-year-old from Phoenix, AZ. …


Illustrations: Shira Inbar

‘The world owes him some gratitude, but he was not pleasant’

Every day, hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of molecular reactions are happening in laboratories worldwide. Small droplets of liquid that give us a lens into an individual’s respiratory pathways are analyzed for whether or not they contain the pathogen of the year: SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19. The technique used for this analysis is called polymerase chain reaction (PCR), and it exploits the ability of genetic material to replicate. Although imperfect, it’s been critical in diagnosing the disease by amplifying genes specific to SARS-CoV-2. …


At the end of June, when I was assessing my finances, I was completely shocked to see that I had basically hit my target income already.

That must be a fluke, right? But it wasn’t. My trusty Google Sheets had the right formula, and I double checked to make sure all my invoices were documented correctly.

“Welp,” I thought to myself, “I already hit $50k” (my target income). “I could just give up on working for the rest of the year.”

Of course, I didn’t. At the time, I didn’t strategize for a six-figure year, but towards the end of…


Six Months In

Lessons from the Covid-19 frontlines through the eyes of Dr. Craig Spencer

Dr. Craig Spencer. Photo illustration; Photo: Marc Goldberg

This story is part of Six Months In, a special weeklong Elemental series reflecting on where we’ve been, what we’ve learned, and what the future holds for the Covid-19 pandemic.

Around six months ago, New York City was seeing its highest caseload of Covid-19 cases yet. Emergency rooms in the city were packed. There was a shortage of personal protective equipment for physicians, not to mention the fear of running out of ventilators for patients with cases so severe that they required supplemental oxygen. But, about half a year out, things in New York City are slowly making a change.


Photography: Meron Menghistab

Immunologist and new mother Megan O’Connor works nonstop to help her team move their Covid-19 vaccine forward

Around mid-March, when the novel coronavirus was beginning to make its way through the U.S., Megan O’Connor had just returned to work after six months of maternity leave.

Even in the weeks after she had her baby daughter, O’Connor, an immunologist, hadn’t stopped working. “Science doesn’t stop just because you are on a break,” she says. In spare moments while taking care of her newborn, O’Connor spent time at home analyzing experimental data and writing grants. Maternity leave felt isolating for her, and O’Connor says she was eager to go back to work and reclaim her identity as a scientist.


Science explains why there’s a loss of human compassion during pandemics

Illustrations: Virginia Gabrielli

Since Washington state, where I live, instated its stay-at-home order over 100 days ago, I’ve noticed a number of changes in my behavior. First, the novelty of the Zoom hangouts wore off, and I found connecting with friends and family over video chat left me feeling more drained than fulfilled. I found this baffling, especially as an extrovert. Next, my fiancé noticed that I was getting snippier. …


In cities across the U.S. — from Seattle to Austin, Asheville, and Denver — medics say they are dealing with police altercations while trying to render aid

A street medic along with other demonstrators protest in front of the Hall of Justice after the death of George Floyd, in Los Angeles on June 10, 2020. Photo: MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News/Getty Images

On Saturday, May 30, in Seattle, Washington, Alex* stood next to the police as civilians protested against the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other Black people at the hands of law enforcement. It was late in the afternoon and the rain was starting to come. Tensions in the crowd were high. It had largely been peaceful, but then some protestors started throwing empty water bottles at the officers.

With a brief warning, but not enough time for people to respond, police officers started tossing canisters of tear gas. Tear gas eventually settles; if someone stays on the ground…

Wudan Yan

Journalist based in Seattle. wudanyan.com

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