Dateline: Feb. 15, 2020
RK: Who are you?
Covid 19: I am a virus, about to launch a worldwide pandemic.
RK: I never heard of you.
19: But you will.
19: Well, what’s today?
RK: Feb. 15. I know because I still have sand in my shoes from a family reunion in the Dominican Republic. We were nervous about going because of the recent mini-bar deaths in the country, but it was fun and safe and a great time together with the kids and grandkids.
19: Death by mini-bar was nothing. I’m here to give you a glimpse of the future. And by the way, that’ll be your last vacation for a very long time. You’re lucky you didn’t meet me in the D.R., because I was already there.
Let me introduce myself properly. I’m a novel coronavirus, which means that I’m a brand-new bug in humans, and therefore unstoppable. Until recently, I was living in a market in China. I thought I was having a discreet and productive life, thriving in local bats, and then, vroom, I found myself inside people, and discovered a whole new way to grow and spread. Nothing personal; I’m just a force of nature.
RK: What does this mean to me? I’m healthy and have a busy life, reading and writing and socializing with friends and traveling. I see my kids and grandkids often, even though we don’t live near one another anymore. How does your arrival in the States affect me?
19: In the next six months, I will infect more than 23 million people and kill almost 800,000 across the world. By August I will sicken nearly 5 million people in the United States, and more than 170,000 Americans will be dead before the fall. Refrigerator trucks with dead bodies will line some city streets.
I’m tough on people who are compromised by other diseases and older people with weaker immune systems. In April alone I will kill 37 people in just one Seattle senior home. I move fast. Before anyone knew I was a threat, I was embedded, igniting small fires among unsuspecting groups of people and making many of them very sick.
RK: This sounds like science fiction. How will it get so bad so fast?
19: I’ve got a free ride. At this point there are no vaccines, and there won’t be an effective treatment for a long time. When there’s a surge in a city, thousands of people will show up at emergency rooms where doctors won’t know how to help them. Thousands will go on ventilators so they can breathe, but many will die.
No one will know how to deal with me. Doctors and front-line responders will get sick themselves. I will thrive because no one will be prepared: not enough protective gowns and masks, not enough ventilators, no organized national plan to challenge me and enough confusion to allow me to flourish.
Your whole life will change, RK. You and your husband will have to isolate yourselves to stay healthy. By the way, where is he?
RK: At the movies.
19: He won’t be able to do that again for a long time. Movie houses will close, restaurants will shut down, schools will close. No sports. No college dorms. No large weddings or parties. No airplane travel. Hospitalized patients won’t be allowed to have visitors.
RK: How can we stay safe?
19: You’ll have to stay six feet away from other people, and you’ll have to wear a mask wherever you go. You won’t see your children or grandchildren for at least six months.
RK: Not possible.
19: You won’t see them because they could infect you, and you’re more vulnerable. You won’t see them because you could infect them, and that would be intolerable.
RK: When will you disappear so we can return to life as it was?
19: I don’t think I’ll ever go away, but a reliable vaccine could make most people immune. As for “life as it was,” once the ground shifts under your feet there’s no going back. Going forward, your only hope is to be better prepared for the next novel virus about to leap into the human population.
Copyright 2020 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.