Nurith Aizenman

When Steve Davis considers the prospects of the world's poorest citizens he is filled with .... hope. The reason: Five promising trends that, he says, are gaining steam even amid deeply worrisome developments that get much more attention.

What are the biggest drivers of human suffering?

Every year an international team of researchers aims to answer that question by assembling a mammoth data set called the "Global Burden of Disease." It has become the go-to source for tracking and ranking the impact of virtually every disease or condition that is killing, sickening or otherwise disabling people in virtually every country on the planet.

The coronavirus pandemic has now killed at least 1 million people worldwide. That's according to a tally maintained by Johns Hopkins University. This sobering milestone was reached just nine months after the first reported fatality in China last January. And public health experts believe the actual toll – the recorded deaths plus the unrecorded deaths – is much higher.

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New estimates released this week suggest the global impact of the coronavirus pandemic will reach even greater levels of awfulness before 2020 is over: A prominent forecasting team projects that between now and Jan. 1, the virus will kill an additional 1.9 million people worldwide, pushing the total death toll by year's end to above 2.8 million.

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The American conversation around masks and COVID-19 has taken a dizzying turn. For months, wearing masks has been politicized as a sign of liberal leanings. But in recent days, ever more governors — many of them Republican — have moved to mandate masks. This week President Trump — arguably the nation's most visible mask un-enthusiast — started referring to wearing them as "patriotic."

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