I’ve mentioned a time or two in this space about the Tastee Burger at Tom & Jerry’s Drive-In in Scottsbluff, Neb. Mom worked there as a carhop, and Dad flirted with her every chance he got when he stopped for coffee at the end of his shift with the Nebraska Highway Patrol.

Tom & Jerry’s remained in business when I was in grade school, and I so loved that Tastee Burger. It was a sloppy joe — what some call a “loose meat” sandwich — and simply had the best flavor. It wasn’t too sweet, too spicy, too salty or too anything — just “tastee.”

For decades, I’ve tried to replicate the recipe, but it seemed to be no use. For instance, was the Tastee Burger dependent on the choice of ground beef? Should I use the basic 30 percent fat, the 20% or the really lean burger at 7% fat?

Next, I considered the sauce. Was it ketchup-based or was tomato sauce the main ingredient? What spices did the Tastee Burger folks use? Did the cooks toss in the traditional salt, pepper, onion powder or garlic powder? Or was there a secret ingredient to investigate?

I also varied the chopped veggies, changing up the combinations whenever I made a new batch. Should the mix be heavy with onion and garlic, or should I add celery and green pepper in equal measure?

I’ve lost count of the number of sloppy joe trial-and-error batches I whipped up. Some attempts were so very close, but not quite the taste I remembered. I wondered if my memory of a unique sandwich wasn’t that great after all.

My guess is that you, dear reader, know where I’m going with this trial-and-error story. To me, the infectious disease folks are in the same pickle. How many attempts at tackling COVID-19 will we see before those folks find a successful treatment?

Granted, a burger joint recipe and a treatment for the coronavirus are worlds apart when one considers what’s at stake. Nevertheless, the process of trial-and-error is similar — we just forget how many errors it can take to find success.

Those on the front lines with COVID-19 have taken more than a fair amount of grief. At first, they advised we wipe surfaces to destroy the virus. Now, it’s more about those airborne droplets — hence the masks. Moreover, healthcare workers have tried numerous medications, some promising, others not so much.

From the reaction of some, those missteps — the “errors” in trial-and-error—totally negate the researchers’ work and hardly make them credible. I don’t get that.

As a layperson, I can’t begin to grasp the scope of what these researchers and healthcare workers face every day. In a July 7 story for Bloomberg/Quint.com, writer Jason Gale reports that, according to the World Health Organization, there’s something like a thousand COVID-related research papers released every day as writers wait for peer review and publication.

Never has a situation been more fluid — or more novel.

I like how Thomas Edison explained trial-and-error: “Negative results are just what I want. They’re just as valuable to me as positive results. I can never find the thing that does the job best until I find the ones that don’t.”

That goes for my Tastee Burger and COVID-19.

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