2021: Waiting for Biden

Yaneer Bar-Yam
5 min readFeb 11, 2021


We’re waiting. Waiting for the leadership that will allow us to live our lives again.

We have been living with COVID for so long, it often feels like we have forgotten how to live without it. Imagine hugging friends again, traveling freely, starting large bar tabs, dancing, going to the theatre and to concerts. Imagine all schools, universities, family events, and sports games happening without restrictions.

Despite the fact that most of the world’s best scientists today are working in America, despite the fact that America has produced most of the vaccines for COVID-19 so far, despite that, a long period of risk, restrictions, and uncertainty stretches before us across 2021. It will be 9 months until wide spread population immunity is achieved, and the growing virus population across the world opens the door to an increasing number of new mutants that are more transmissible and potentially vaccine resistant. Success in a pandemic is not waiting for a vaccine. It’s about using an arsenal of tools, including vaccines, to defeat the virus while we have the chance.

Sitting tight with folded arms and waiting for vaccines is not what we’re about.

Have we forgotten who we are we are? In 1962, we chose to go to the moon. And then we did. It was a crowning achievement of our contributions to science and technology. 20 years ago, we eliminated measles from our country. In 1951, we eliminated malaria from continental USA — without vaccines. As noted by epidemiologist and philanthropist, Larry Brilliant, “Outbreaks are inevitable. Pandemics are optional.

We believe that America can be pandemic free, and we believe we can make it happen now. What’s the difference between orchestrating a moon landing and eliminating a virus? Space exploration happens through the focussed effort of a small group of people. Managing a pandemic requires everyone to be involved. It’s about community.

The virus itself is a biomedical problem, but the pandemic is an environmental and political challenge. We’ve had the science right, but our politics has been fractured and our community’s ability to apply the science has floundered. We had the knowledge and tools to remove the pandemic, but we couldn’t use them. Now, we can. Things are changing in America.

Just like in the 1950’s, we live again in a time of change and challenge, in a decade of hope and fear, and in an age of knowledge and ignorance.

We can no longer blame on our boots the faults of our feet. We have both the right science and strong, unifying leadership. We can take control of our situation. We can return to living our lives again. We can eliminate COVID-19 from America. And, we can do it in 2 months.

The key idea is simple: reduce the virus numbers. When we reduce SARS-CoV-2 infections; we reduce the severity of restrictions, we reduce economic damage, we reduce hospital and ICU admissions, and we reduce the death rate. Minimum virus in the community translates to maximum living, all the way to zero.

To be sure, we are behind. Until now we have been attempting to live with the virus, by partially limiting the growth of the virus population through significant limitations on our social activities. This is because the virus is like a fire that multiplies when we socialize. The growth of the fire is the multiplication of the fire size by our social activity. When we reduce socialization, the fire grows more slowly, but then comes back. But if we change our strategy and reduce the fire to zero then we can socialize to maximum levels, because when zero is a multiplier, zero is the result. The prize is socializing without limits and without risk.

We need to extinguish the fire with a short-term, focussed effort. This is not just about short-term pain for long-term gain, it’s about escaping from a trap. We have to swim hard against a rip current to dry land, avoiding the temptation to drift passively out to sea. We need to go ZeroCovid.

This approach has three core components: Crush, Contain, and Chase. We crushthe curve with an acute, and government supported lockdown. We containnew cases before they can be introduced into the country using mandatory quarantine for incoming international travel. We chasecases if and when they arise in communities through rapid and exhaustive testing, contacting tracing, and financially supported isolation. We start together, as one country. And we get to zero locally, one state at a time, until we retake our continent — coast to coast.

The endgame is living again. It’s not something we wait for, it’s something we create. We build it with science, with leadership, but most of all — with citizenship. We’re not simply trying to put two human beings on the moon. We are trying to put 328 million Americans back on earth. It requires all of us. We have to work together, and come together by staying apart for a time. This involves maintaining physical and social distancing, continuing to wear masks in public, supporting friends and neighbors when isolating, and reminding each other of the seriousness of the situation and the patriotic importance of our collective effort. And we do so with respect and regret for the 400,000 souls that were lost on our watch.

This is not a challenge of science — it’s challenge for science and society. It can serve to organize and measure the best of our civic energies and political skills, to see who we are.

It is not every day that we are needed — all of us. But this is one of them. We can eliminate COVID-19 from America, and then with our friends abroad, lead its eradication from the world. We can’t succeed by half measures. Nobody falls halfway.

In the words of Samuel Beckett:

It is true that when with folded arms we weigh the pros and cons we are no less a credit to our species. The tiger bounds to the help of his congeners without the least reflexion, or else he slinks away into the depths of the thickets. But that is not the question. What are we doing here, that is the question. And we are blessed in this, that we happen to know the answer. Yes, in the immense confusion one thing alone is clear. We are waiting….”

What do you say?



Yaneer Bar-Yam

Complex systems scientist studying social and economic systems, president of the New England Complex Systems Institute. Author of Making Things Work