We’re still waiting for the pandemic to be over, but what we should be doing is preparing for the next one.

Pandemics like COVID-19 aren’t once-in-a-lifetime events, but are actually “relatively likely,” says Duke University professor William Pan, who teaches global environmental health. And if we don’t start getting better at combatting them, the human race might be kaput. 

The study, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, analyzed records of novel disease outbreaks spanning the last four centuries, finding that a COVID-like event has a 2 percent chance of occurring in any given year. While that might not sound bad, it means anyone born at the turn of the century had a 38 percent chance of enduring a pandemic. 

The math is grim: “that probability is only growing,” the study claims.

The study used statistics to determine the frequency and scale of pandemics dating back 400 years, including the Black Plague, smallpox, typhus, cholera, and influenza.

Sidenote statistics lesson–when scientists say things like “once-in-a-lifetime” event, like say a 100-year flood, that doesn’t mean that event will only occur once every 100 years. It means it’s likely to occur again anytime within the next 100 years, including tomorrow. 

Even grimmer: what scientists discovered is the risk of severe pandemics–the kind that kills millions of people worldwide–is “growing rapidly.” They predict we could be seeing these types of outbreaks three times more often in the coming decades. If their calculations are accurate, we could be experiencing another COVID-sized pandemic within the next 60 years. 

But the grimmest news? It’s statistically likely a pandemic bad enough to obliterate the entire human race will occur in the next 12,000 years. 

That’s right. The big one. The end of the world as we know it. 

So what exactly can we do about it? Pan says a lot.

“This points to the importance of an early response to disease outbreaks and building capacity for pandemic surveillance at the local and global scales, as well as for setting a research agenda for understanding why large outbreaks are becoming more common,” Pan says.

Significant factors that lead to the spread of such diseases include population growth and environmental degradation. Finding out what is driving the increase in pandemics will allow humanity to find ways to prevent them, or at least minimize the impacts. 

Or we can throw our masks to the wind and just accept we’re all going to die.

KIDDING! Please don’t do that. The survival of the human race may depend on it. 

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Follow Senior Staff Writer Leigh Tauss on Twitter or send an email to ltauss@indyweek.com