Masks on, masks off. Schools close, then open, then close and then open again. Is proof of vaccination required to go to a concert or not? Have the requirements for travel changed again? If so, what are they now? The COVID-19 pandemic has been a time of constantly changing rules and policies, and so much change is, understandably, frustrating. But as the number of confirmed deaths in the U.S. approaches 1 million, it’s important to remember that this is a public health crisis like no other.

“Typically, meaningful changes to federal health policy happen at a glacial pace,” explains Michael Williams, a University of Virginia physician and health policy expert. “But the modern world has never faced a public health crisis that has changed as quickly as the pandemic.”

Contending with the coronavirus, he says, is more like what happens with a hurricane.

Responses can differ from place to place, actions must be quick enough to match the speed of changing conditions, and as these conditions shift, so too must the tools and rules employed. Despite how it may appear, adjustments to COVID-19 policies aren’t a sign that officials or scientists are getting things wrong and backpedaling, Williams writes: “Rather, they show that for the most part, policymakers are getting things right over and over again.”

This week we also liked articles about climate change, an ornate guidebook on managing medieval households and whether Russia is committing genocide in Ukraine.

And with the start of Ramadan, here are six questions answered about this Muslim holy month. To learn more about Islam, see our special series Understanding Islam.

Daniel Merino

Assistant Science Editor & Co-Host of The Conversation Weekly Podcast

COVID guidelines have changed a lot over the past few years as the pandemic has ebbed and flowed. AP Photo/Jeff Chiu

Tomorrow’s COVID safety guidelines will be different from today’s – but that doesn’t mean yesterday’s were wrong

Michael Williams, University of Virginia

The constantly changing COVID-19 rules can be frustrating. But this pandemic is like no other public health crisis in history. It is better to think of the virus and US responses the way we think about hurricanes.

A Ukrainian soldier observes a destroyed shopping mall in Kyiv on March 29, 2022. Mykhaylo Palinchak/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Is Russia committing genocide in Ukraine? A human rights expert looks at the warning signs

Alexander Hinton, Rutgers University - Newark

There are a few warning signs that genocide is happening. In the Russian war on Ukraine, all of those are present.

Pope Francis presides over a special prayer in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican on March 25, 2022, before heading out to Malta for a two-day visit. AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia, File

Pope Francis’ visit to Malta highlights the role of St. George Preca, an advocate for teaching the gospel

Joanne M. Pierce, College of the Holy Cross

Malta’s St. George Preca was canonized in 2007 by Pope Benedict XVI. As Pope Francis visits Malta, renewed attention is coming to how his life and work can provide guidance for welfare of refugees.


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