The world is quiet now. Growing up in the 1980’s and 90’s, I was accustomed to the sound of cars driving past and planes flying overhead, little fans whirring inside black boxes of electronics, and the hum of refrigerator compressors kicking on at regular intervals. Living in urban areas off and on for most of my adult life, I’m also used to street lights piercing through the night and rowdy teenagers occasionally driving past with bass loud enough to rattle my teeth. Today, most of that noise is gone and those lights are dimmed. There’s a stillness in the world that I’ve never known.
The world is still because there aren’t any people moving through it as they normally do. As of this moment, 286, 816 people have been infected across 167 different countries (see Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Dashboard) with a new corona virus called COVID-19 which is the most lethal viral plague to spread so easily across the globe since the Spanish Flu in 1918. The virus was first detected, as best as the scientists can tell right now, in an exotic animal market in Wuhan, China where wild animals that don’t normally have contact with humans are stacked atop each other in wire cages and sold as medicinal products. There is still a lot unknown about this virus, but currently it is believed it may have started in a bat, passed to a pangolin, and then transmitted to a person at one of these markets. From there, it spread from a very few people, to some of the people they came in contact with, then to some of the people those people came in contact with, until, in November 2019, it became obvious in Wuhan there was a new and dangerous disease spreading between people and spreading fast. The Chinese government initially tried to downplay the virus, but when it was clear it was making people deathly ill and spreading like wildfire, they quickly build additional hospitals and locked down the area. They were, of course, too late, and even keeping people inside their homes could not rewind the clock to a time before the virus had spread far across the globe.
Europe was hit hardest next: first northern Italy, then all of Italy, then France, Spain, and the rest. The virus had been also been detected in America as early as January, but President Donald Trump, certainly the worst president in my lifetime and the least fit to see us through such a health crisis, chose to believe it was “contained”, “under control”, and “would go away.” It didn’t, of course. Because of the interconnectedness of our globalized society and cheap and easy movement of people between countries and continents, the virus is effectively everywhere. Because of the bungling nature of politicians and other rich men who prefer the health of their investment accounts to the health of their countrymen, response has been slower than it should have been which will cause greater spread of the virus and more deaths. According to one projection by the world’s preeminent disease modeler, Dr. Neil M. Feguson, the United States will lose 1.1 million people if we do everything right from now on, 2.2 million if we do everything wrong. While this is only 0.3% to 0.6% of the US’s roughly 329 million citizens, it’s still a sobering prediction. Watching the increasing severe containment measures the French and Spanish news are describing in Europe which is about eight to fourteen days ahead of the US in the progression of the virus, I feel as though I’ve been given a vision of a terrible future by a live-streaming oracle.
Newspapers read like The Book of Revelations, promising visits from Famine from the collapse of the food supply chain, War as superpowers point fingers at each other for unleashing this invisible monster on the world, Pestilence with image after image of overrun makeshift hospitals, and Death tolls climbing on charts updated in real time. But if you turn off whatever screen you’re reading, the world outside is quiet. People are hidden away in their homes, staying as far from other people as possible, cowering as surely as if this novel coronavirus was Plague on horseback prowling the streets. The thrumming of the hustle and bustle of daily life in the 21st Century has been replaced by an eerie quiet that seems out of place in the suburb of Boston I’m living in. Will the world maintain this quiet for the 12-18 months necessary for the threat to pass? No one knows. For now, we can only sit holding our breath and wait.