The internet's best coronavirus writing

Jeva Lange
·12 min read

We are living through a historic moment, a paradigm shift. Through it, there will be optimists and pessimists, activists and skeptics. There will be scientists searching for answers, and patients who wake up one morning with an inexplicable loss of taste and smell.

And through it all, there will be stories — stories that process what is happening, stories that explain it in medical terms, stories of loss, or of love, of loneliness or community. There will be stories that are deeply tragic, and movingly beautiful, and darkly funny.

We have tried to collect a few of those stories here. In chronological order, this is some of the best writing about the coronavirus outbreak so far. And we'll keep updating this list as the pandemic lasts.

Why outbreaks like coronavirus spread exponentially, and how to "flatten the curve"

By Harry Stevens for The Washington Post

In one crucial respect, though, these simulations are nothing like reality: Unlike simulitis, COVID-19 can kill. Though the fatality rate is not precisely known, it is clear that the elderly members of our community are most at risk of dying from COVID-19.

"If you want this to be more realistic ... some of the dots should disappear."

How the Coronavirus Could Take Over Your Body (Before You Ever Feel It)

By Jeff Wise for New York

What you don't know is that ten days ago, your friend's father was a guest of his business partner at the University Club, where he caught the novel coronavirus from the wife of a cryptocurrency speculator. Three days after that, he coughed into his hand before opening the door of his apartment to welcome his son home. The saliva of COVID-19 patients can harbor half a trillion virus particles per teaspoon, and a cough aerosolizes it into a diffuse mist. As your friend walked through the door he took a breath and 32,456 virus particles settled onto the lining of his mouth and throat.

Viruses have been multiplying inside his body ever since. And as he talks, the passage of his breath over the moist lining of his upper throat creates tiny droplets of virus-laden mucus that waft invisibly into the air over your table. Some settle on the as-yet-uneaten food on your plate, some drift onto your fingers, others are drawn into your nasal sinus or settle into your throat. By the time you extend your hand to shake good-bye, your body is carrying 43,654 virus particles. By the time you're done shaking hands, that number is up to 312,405.

Estate Sales vs. Quarantine

By Natalie Beach for Inside Voices

It's true that all estate sales have a sense of death or at least finality, and that part of the thrill of attending them comes from witnessing the end of a life, and even imagining what your own home will look like once you've been replaced by a cash register at the door and a swarm of strangers pawing through your possessions, not so much in the manner of a Black Friday sale but a cloud of eels and crabs picking apart a whale carcass on the ocean floor. I have bought and worn dead women's blouses, eaten dinners off Fiestaware that may very well have served last meals. Go to enough of these things and you can see the shape of an entire life, from the garage of wedding China and dusty sports equipment, the pet hair and butt indentations on the couch, Oaxacan souvenirs on the mantle, and then inevitably, the pink bedpan and half-used packages of adult diapers stashed in a corner of the bathroom. And while I know I'm not alone in feeling a sense of comfort in touching the lives of others, I wanted to scream from the foyer of the late Michael Hogarth's house, Jesus Christ now is truly not the time for touching the lives of others. There I was standing in a house filled with bones and feathers in the midst of a pandemic, witnessing the CDC's greatest fear: a group of strangers, most of them elderly, waiting in line to enter a dead man's home and one by one touch his things.

COVID-19 Updates From Dr. Smith: 3/20/20

By Dr. Craig Smith, Chair of the Department of Surgery, to the faculty and staff of NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia

Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to apologize profusely in a few weeks for having overestimated the threat. That would mean we never exceeded capacity, and that mortalities and morbidities rarely seen in non-pandemic circumstances were avoided. The next month or two is a horror to imagine if we're underestimating the threat. So what can we do? Load the sled, check the traces, feed Balto, and mush on. Our cargo must reach Nome. Remember that our families, friends, and neighbors are scared, idle, out of work, and feel impotent. Anyone working in health care still enjoys the rapture of action. It's a privilege! We mush on.

Life on Lockdown in China

By Peter Hessler for The New Yorker

From what I could tell, the lockdown diet of my neighbors was remarkably healthy. If quarantined Americans were forced to survive on delivery food, health officials would want to track the X curve of body-mass index rising across the drop in coronavirus cases. In Chengdu, though, my neighbors were obviously cooking: lots of fresh vegetables and fruit. I never saw evidence of alcohol going anywhere other than 1901: my apartment. The government had strategically allowed cigarette and alcohol shops to remain open — these were among the very few places of business that never shut down. But, when I talked to store owners in my neighborhood, they said that sales were terrible. There are many types of loneliness in this world, but it's a unique sensation to feel that you are the only individual in a forty-three-story building who is drinking his way through a quarantine.

That Discomfort You're Feeling Is Grief

An interview with David Kessler by Scott Berinato for Harvard Business Review

What do you say to someone who's read all this and is still feeling overwhelmed with grief?

Keep trying. There is something powerful about naming this as grief. It helps us feel what's inside of us. So many have told me in the past week, "I'm telling my coworkers I'm having a hard time," or "I cried last night." When you name it, you feel it and it moves through you. Emotions need motion. It's important we acknowledge what we go through. One unfortunate byproduct of the self-help movement is we're the first generation to have feelings about our feelings. We tell ourselves things like, I feel sad, but I shouldn't feel that; other people have it worse. We can — we should — stop at the first feeling. I feel sad. Let me go for five minutes to feel sad. Your work is to feel your sadness and fear and anger whether or not someone else is feeling something. Fighting it doesn't help because your body is producing the feeling. If we allow the feelings to happen, they'll happen in an orderly way, and it empowers us. Then we're not victims.

What I Learned When My Husband Got Sick With Coronavirus

By Jessica Lustig for The New York Times

The doctor told us to go back to the clinic for a chest X-ray first thing in the morning. Now we slowly walk the three blocks, T coughing behind his mask. As we move along the street, we see some other people too — fewer than a few days ago, before Gov. Andrew Cuomo directed New Yorkers to stay indoors as much as possible. Some joggers go by. Just over a week ago, that was still me. Now I point out the buds about to bloom on the branches we pass, drawing T's attention away from the few passers-by so we won't see if they start or turn around. A few are wearing their own masks, but they are walking upright, striding along, using them as protection for themselves. Not like us.

13 Deaths in a Day: An "Apocalyptic" Coronavirus Surge at an N.Y.C. Hospital

By Michael Rothfeld, Somini Sengupta, Joseph Goldstein, and Brian M. Rosenthal for The New York Times

In several hours on Tuesday, Dr. Ashley Bray performed chest compressions at Elmhurst Hospital Center on a woman in her 80s, a man in his 60s and a 38-year-old who reminded the doctor of her fiancé. All had tested positive for the coronavirus and had gone into cardiac arrest. All eventually died.

How the Pandemic Will End

By Ed Yong for The Atlantic

Even a perfect response won't end the pandemic. As long as the virus persists somewhere, there's a chance that one infected traveler will reignite fresh sparks in countries that have already extinguished their fires. This is already happening in China, Singapore, and other Asian countries that briefly seemed to have the virus under control. Under these conditions, there are three possible endgames: one that's very unlikely, one that's very dangerous, and one that's very long.

Since I Became Symptomatic

By Leslie Jamison for The New York Review of Books

The virus. Its sinewy, intimate name. What does it feel like in my body today? Shivering under blankets. A hot itch behind the eyes. Three sweatshirts in the middle of the day. My daughter trying to pull another blanket over my body with her tiny arms. An ache in the muscles that somehow makes it hard to lie still. This loss of taste has become a kind of sensory quarantine. It's as if the quarantine keeps inching closer and closer to my insides. First I lost the touch of other bodies; then I lost the air; now I've lost the taste of bananas. Nothing about any of these losses is particularly unique. I've made a schedule so I won't go insane with the toddler. Five days ago, I wrote Walk/Adventure! on it, next to a cut-out illustration of a tiger — as if we'd see tigers on our walks. It was good to keep possibility alive.

"Anything good I could say about this would be a lie"

By Tony Sizemore, as told to Eli Saslow for The Washington Post

It was hard for me to sit there. I'm almost ashamed to say that, but it's true. She was in the bed, and I was usually a few feet away in the recliner. It was two or three days in that room, but each one felt like a year. I'm not a natural caretaker, and never claimed to be, but it seemed like no matter what I tried, I couldn't help her. It was just watch, wait, touch her forehead, apologize. I couldn't do anything. Nobody could.

What Happens When You Need a Rescue During a Pandemic

By Devon O'Neil for Outside

Back at the accident scene, everyone mills around talking. Someone mentions social distancing again. People chuckle nervously and back away from each other. Only after they depart does the potential cost of their actions sink in. More than 50 people were involved with the rescue, from civilian first responders to professional air-medical crews, and many on scene worked close enough to breathe on each other. "It was a holy-shit moment when I realized the number of people, not only search-and-rescue but the bystanders and Ophirites, who were interacting closely, touching each other," Schroepfer says.

A letter from the coronavirus quarantine: missing Serie A, pasta, and friendship

By Wright Thompson for ESPN

Stadiums and restaurants, once places of communion, are now places closed by this virus for who knows how long. Serie A was one of the first European leagues to cancel games, and I don't know when it will start again, or when all sports in general will start again, or when we might be able to visit our parents, or sit in a restaurant with strangers who are more to us than threatening disease vectors. It might be a very long time. I checked in with one of the well-dressed public relations men who work for AS Roma. He told me he and his family were finding joy wherever they could.

"We are Italians," he told me, "and forced to stay at home, we do our best in the kitchen."

"We can't go back to normal": how will coronavirus change the world?

By Peter C Baker for The Guardian

But disasters and emergencies do not just throw light on the world as it is. They also rip open the fabric of normality. Through the hole that opens up, we glimpse possibilities of other worlds. Some thinkers who study disasters focus more on all that might go wrong. Others are more optimistic, framing crises not just in terms of what is lost but also what might be gained. Every disaster is different, of course, and it's never just one or the other: loss and gain always coexist. Only in hindsight will the contours of the new world we're entering become clear.

This Pandemic Is Not Your Vacation

By Anne Helen Petersen for BuzzFeed News

The virus, some people have taken to saying, "does not discriminate." But that's not quite true. It is putting our class and racial hierarchies in harsh relief — systems that favor the rich and the globally mobile while declaring the work of so many of the working class "essential." Wealth is the vector. And the economically precarious will suffer because of it — whether they're cleaning the offices of the infected in New York or checking groceries in Blaine County, Idaho.

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