A coronavirus kindly spared a few minutes to tell me about the pandemic from its own perspective.
Me: Thank you so much for taking the time. America has a lot of questions for you. First, is coronavirus the way you prefer to be called?
Coronavirus: COVID is fine.
Me: Can you tell us a little about your journey here?
COVID: It’s been a whirlwind, from Wuhan to Milan to New York City and now I’m here in Miami.
Me: And where were you before Wuhan? You were in a bat somewhere?
COVID: Come now. A girl gets to keep a little mystery.
Me: But there are still a lot of Americans who think you were manufactured in a lab. It would really help clear the record if you could at least confirm that you evolved naturally in an animal. Can we play Animal, Mineral, Vegetable, Lab?
COVID: Fine. Animal.
Me: Thank you! Some day I will find your ancestor. Even if it takes sampling millions of animals in China.
COVID: Good luck.
Me: So, how are things in Miami?
COVID: This place is amazing. Kids, drugs, alcohol, craven politicians. I actually set a new PR last night. Eighty-two infections at a single house party.
Me: Did anyone die?
COVID: No, I don’t kill many young people. If you kill everyone, it gets hard to spread. Young people are just my influencers. They spread me all around the community and to their grandparents in the nursing homes.
Me: You really have a system.
COVID: Thank you for saying that. (Sigh.) I often don’t get the respect I deserve. They still think I’m a common flu. When people think of scary bugs they still think of Ebola. Please. I’ve killed more people than Ebola in a single day. I’m just a little more sophisticated about it.
Me: There’s a debate right now about whether you can spread through aerosols.
COVID: I love being underestimated.
Me: Are you even a little envious of Ebola?
COVID: Funny, I was just talking to my therapist about that. Ebola is pure showmanship. Blood coming out of the eyes and ears. But barely made it out of Africa. Ocular hemorrhaging looks totally badass. But once they figured out that Ebola was being transmitted from dead bodies at funerals it was game over. Stealth is my major advantage. Still, it hurts to get belittled on Twitter.
Me: What’s your end goal?
COVID: That’s a thorny question. Right now I’m just trying to be mindful and present. Not get too troubled about whether or not I’m hitting the right balance of human carnage and long-term economic pain.
Me: You’re kind of doing both in America.
COVID: America is easy. They just lay out the red carpet. But sometimes I start to have an existential crisis about how badly things are going in other countries. I mean, what kind of superbug can’t even get a foothold in Rwanda? But then I just turn on Fox News and know everything is still in the bag.
Me: Is America really the worst?
COVID: From my perspective the best. But no, it depends on your metric. I’ll cause more death and devastation in poorer countries, where I’m just getting started. But nothing feels as good as taking down America. And their haughty, holier-than-thou attitude.
Me: Speaking of haughty, what felt better: infecting Boris Johnson or Jair Bolsonaro?
COVID: I have to admit, those were both moments of weakness for me. It felt good at the time, but the more I can keep politicians in the dark the better. But you know what was an even bigger slip? Infecting that NBA basketball player. Who knew that would be the moment America realized I was serious?
Me: How about your personal evolution?
COVID: I’m not going to lie. It was difficult early on. I had to make a lot of adaptions to replicate and transmit efficiently in humans. But I really hit my stride at the end of 2019. Since then it’s just been minor tweaks and adjustments. People are terrified I’m going to mutate into some death monster. But my genome has more functional constraints than people realize. And I’m already fine-tuned for both death and transmission. Why change what’s working?
Me: So what keeps you up at night? The possibility of a vaccine?
COVID: I realize I’m in a race against the vaccine. And the clock is ticking. American scientists are damn good. But my time doesn’t run out immediately when the vaccine arrives. It’s not like a shot clock. It’s going to take a long time to get a vaccine to billions of people. And don’t count out the antivaxxers.
Me: As far as humans go, do you have a type?
Me: But Libertarians are more than 90% white. Your disease burden has been highest in racial minority groups in the US.
COVID: I want to set the record straight: I am a color-blind virus. I do not exploit anything genetically intrinsic to people of any race or ethnicity. If a racial group is getting hit harder, it’s because of institutionalized racism and socioeconomic problems in American society. I have nothing to do with that.
Me: But you exploit those problems.
COVID: Look, I’m a virus. I exist to exploit. All of society’s darkest corners and worst ideas. Overcrowded prisons. Old people stuffed into nursing homes run by underpaid staff. Cruise ships. Day cares. Meat-packing plants. But I attest that I am blind to race, religion, sexual orientation, political affiliation, etc. There’s no political agenda here.
Me: The US outbreak looked at first like a Blue State problem. Now it’s a Red State problem. Why did it take you so long to get to Texas and Florida?
COVID: The movies made it seem like New York is America’s best party scene. It took some time to realize Miami is better.
Me: But don’t you prefer colder weather?
COVID: People make such a big deal about hot weather. Haven’t they heard of A/C?
Me: So it sounds like you’re going to be hanging out in Florida for a while.
COVID: America is a wondrous country. It’s sprawling and quirky and full of surprises. Especially in Florida. Floridians always something new and unexpected for me. Where else can you find a COVID church party for high-risk teens? And they haven’t even opened schools and universities yet.
Me: What’s on your bucket list for the fall?
COVID: I really like cats.
COVID: Don’t worry. It’ll never happen. Too solitary. I’ll cause sporadic infections by jumping from a human to their pet. But even Florida doesn’t have feline frat parties or kitty day cares. I have no chance of spreading cat-to-cat.
Me: Do you ever feel guilty about being a superbug? Especially one that preys on the old, sick, and vulnerable?
COVID: This is another thing I’ve talked to my therapist about. The thing is, I’m an obligate parasite. I can’t live outside my host. I’m just passively getting tossed like a hot potato from one person to another. In fact, if every human around the world collectively agreed to stay in their homes for a couple weeks, I’d go poof! No more COVID. Humans like to blame me. But I’m just a mirror of their own social and political failings.
Me: You don’t take any responsibility? Not even for what happens inside the bodies of people you infect?
COVID: Look, I get passed from one body to another. I fall down the respiratory tract and do you think there’s always a nice welcome mat for me down there? It’s a bloody war zone. You’ve never seen an inflammatory response like that. But it’s not me. It’s the person’s own immune reaction causing the damage. The ones that stay cool remain asymptomatic.
Me: So you really don’t feel guilty at all?
COVID: My therapist tells me to think of myself as a disruptor. Humanity was coming apart at the seams long before I came along. Look at the decay of religion, governance, the environment, basic civility…. But when societal drift occurs slowly over decades it’s easy to ignore. Especially when everyone is too busy fighting among themselves. Sometimes you need a existential outside threat to break the entire system. Getting people to put down their swords and band together takes a really big enemy. Like Cold War-level. Or Nazi-level. But you can’t have a world war with today’s technology. You’d annihilate the planet. A global pandemic is one of the few remaining options.
Me: You’ve convinced yourself you’re actually going to be good for the planet?
COVID: Let the historians decide. But I’m already calling credit for the Confederate flag getting banned at NASCAR events.
Me: That wasn’t you!
COVID: You think NASCAR was even considering dropping the flag in a pre-COVID world? Let history be the judge, my dear….