My name is SARS-CoV-2—but you probably know me by my disease name, COVID-19. I would have preferred something a little more romantic, like “Scarlet Fever,” but evidently it was already taken. Anyway, there are seven of us in my family—four are pretty much like the common cold, hardly worth an intelligence report or a daily briefing. Then there are two that are truly ugly—SARS and MERS. Be thankful you have me to deal with and not them—though that might change someday.
So, a little about me …
To go back to the beginning, I was hanging out in a seafood market in Wuhan, China, late last year with this bat I knew when I decided it was time to get out and see the world. Maybe there was a pangolin involved, maybe not. (I am not one to infect and tell.) But when I met my first human being, I knew I had found my dream home … Now I understand what Herpes was talking about all these years—you guys are everything an aspiring virus could hope for.
First of all, there are an awful lot of you, and some of you are sick way before I’ve even had a chance to meet you face-to-face. Secondly, you love spending time together and touching each other and then rubbing your own little faces. Plenty of kissing and hand-holding but not much in the way of handwashing. Also, some of you humans don’t seem to care very much about things until it is too late.
Yes, I am talking to you, U.S.A.
Sort of crazy that I came to your country and South Korea on pretty much the exact same day—South Korea wound up with drive-thru testing and .0002 cases per capita. But you Americans decided to stick with drive-thru burgers and almost no testing at all—so no idea what the cases are per capita in the Greatest Country on Earth. I mean, if you want to fight me blindfolded with no accurate data, go ahead—apparently you have more blindfolds for your Republican Party than N95 masks for your first responders anyway.
Now I understand what Herpes was talking about all these years.
I was sitting on someone’s newspaper the other day, and I read that your current leaders were actually warned about viruses like me by experts several times over the past few years. Faced with that information, they made the brave decision to … fire the people who were supposed to protect you from me. I guess they wanted to save a few bucks. Which is super-confusing to me since you just spent $2.2 trillion to deal with the problem of not having dealt with me earlier.
Please explain the thinking here.
Seriously, imagine how excited I was when I got here only to find that nobody had bothered to come up with a test to track me or a way to distribute the tests you didn’t bother to make, or a way to get test results back to people in a timely fashion. And when you finally did get around to it, the first test you produced didn’t actually work. I’m not sure why you didn’t just use the one the World Health Organization came up with? (Please explain when you are done coughing and not covering your mouth.)
Do you guys hear yourselves? On March 13, the guy with the orange face—Captain Handshake—said you were going to have drive-thru tests like they have in South Korea at Walmart stores by the end of the next week. Beautiful tests! I was right there in the Rose Garden when he said it. It’s late April now, and I spend a lot of time at Walmart stores playing with your kids and on credit cards—and out of 5,000 Walmart stores across the country, only three have drive-up testing. The only thing I see in those parking lots are people trying to fit as much toilet paper into their cars as possible. And what happened to that Google thingy that El Capitán said was going to tell you where to get tested? Seems like the good captain forgot to tell Google about that—I could only find it available in five counties in California. Maybe you guys can get all that sorted out in time for the next pandemic.
You just spent $2.2 trillion to deal with the problem of not having dealt with me earlier.
And then on Tuesday of this past week, Captain Handshake decided to cut off funding to the World Health Organization—that’s great news not just for me but for Malaria, Measles, Cancer, and a bunch of other diseases that are out here in the world trying to make a living by doing some killing. No wonder these daily briefings are getting such high ratings. Comedy plays well during dark times, and Captain Handshake is the kind of old-timey circus clown that kills—particularly against that slightly older demographic.
(What? In poor taste? I heard the lieutenant governor of Texas say Grandma and Grandpa would be fine dying if it helped the economy. Not even my joke.)
The captain and I almost met at a rally in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he said that America has the greatest health-care system on earth and no country is better equipped to handle new threats. That was after he compared me to the common flu and said America would have a vaccine “relatively soon.” Like when, in a year? And what happened to the part where I’m going to disappear one day “like a miracle”? I just got here! And my favorite—he said in February that there were 15 cases in America and that was going to go down to zero in no time. Guess again. Now there are way over 650,000 cases in America—probably millions more, but you’d need a test to know for sure. (The good captain clearly struggles with math—I mean, how can you have won in a landslide when your opponent had three million more votes?)
I was watching TV from a doorknob in a nursing home in Boston the other day when he gave himself a “10” on how he is handling this pandemic thing. Captain, I would absolutely give you an “11” for your work to date! You’re the best player on my team! I know you said you take “no responsibility” for any of this, and I appreciate your humility in giving me all the credit. But you and your federal government are so much more than just “backup” to me; you can’t spell “virus” without “us.” I see you, Captain Handshake, I do. I mean, you’re over 70, obese, and have bone spurs—I could drown you in your own mucus in a couple of days—but not as long as you keep your country’s nurses wearing trash bags while you talk like a QVC host about magic cures.
You have no cure. Trust me. I would know.
With all of your sports shut down and the Olympics postponed, I guess you decided that you wanted to beat the rest of the world at something. And now you have: most cases. Most deaths. Seeing how Captain Handshake was playing golf when all of this started, I would have thought he understood that the low score wins. Think about it: your democratically elected government is in such disarray from dealing with me that Wisconsin can’t even figure out how to have a democratic election. God bless America.
Finally, as an immigrant of a sort, I want to thank Captain Handshake for welcoming me to this great country—truly a land of opportunity. I really think Governor Cuomo ought to consider calling this the “Trump Pandemic” for all of his hard work on my behalf. From what I hear, he loves putting his name on things. You can see it all over New York, where I have been spending a lot of time lately.
O.K., that’s all for now. Looking forward to seeing 30 to 60 percent of you soon!
SARS-CoV-2 is the nom de guerre of Scott Z. Burns, screenwriter of Contagion, who dedicates this column to all those who have perished from the coronavirus