Before you read any further, please know that I use the customary salutation in the start of this letter simply out of convention and not because I find anything positive or endearing about you. To the contrary, your presence is both vicious and foul as far as I am concerned. I write because I have an important message and it does me good to send you this warning.
Before I issue it however, let me do what my mother always advised: Give the Devil his due. Let’s face it — you have been stealthy and powerful. Not every zoonotic virus like you can make the jump from animals to humans but you obviously did and with deadly effect. You’ve caused havoc in every country you’ve visited, taxed resources and brought economies to a halt. I’m sure that all your coronavirus brothers and sisters envy you. I bet that all your nasty cousins like Zika, SARS and Ebola hold you in high regard and that the others in your clan, like Hendra and Nipah, which also started with bats, are taking lessons from your playbook.
I bet you are glad that you’ll go down in the history books, right alongside with the bubonic plague, the Spanish flu of 1918, Adolf Hitler, Osama bin Laden, assorted other despots, tyrants and terrorists too numerous to name, racists, bigots and the greedy from every time and nation. The club you are in has caused massive suffering and death on this fragile earth of ours; if that was your goal, you’ve racked up a lot of staggering numbers.
As I write this, I see that you’ve infected about 3.8 million people in the world that we know about. If fatalities earn you a gold star, you have a little less than 270,000 on your wall. I suppose that there’s no way to count all the oceans of tears from people who have a loved one in that grim tally. I also can’t compute the number of people now without jobs and the money they need to put food on their table, the kids who miss birthday parties, graduations and friends at school, the businesses forced to close and go under, and those whose existing loneliness, poverty and desperation is now more crippling than ever thanks to all you have brought about. This is a colossal gut punch to people of the earth and I wonder, does all this make you smile?
So, here’s my warning: you picked the wrong species to tangle with. Had you focused on things like poison ivy, bedbugs or ticks, you would have had a lot of us human beings cheering you on. Instead, on every corner of the globe, you have enemies all around and — make no mistake — we will defeat you. We both know that my kind has messed a lot of things up over time (just look at the environment, for example), but when we all agree on a goal (say, you as our enemy), we can get things done.
This is no idle boast but a grounded confidence based upon what I know about the men and women on this planet. I’ve known them all my life while you know nothing about what we’re made of. Let me enlighten you.
Do you realize that the Rega Institute in Belgium, thanks to the Gates Foundation, is now screening and testing 14,000 of compounds from a renowned Research Institute Library and thousands more from private Big Pharma powerhouses — agents already tested for safety — to see if they can render diseases like you impotent? This sort of collaboration, up until now, is revolutionary. What they’re after is a panviral drug so that we can tackle more of your nasty ilk in the future, according to The New York Times.
But it’s not just the world’s brainy scientists that gives me this view. I happen to be a Rotarian. Ever since 1988, we’ve set our sights on a nasty plague like you — polio. When we started, there were 350,000 cases in the world every year. Today, this malevolent relative of yours has been crushed by 99.9 percent. While we have a plan for that last little bit and, though it may take us a while, we humans have you in our crosshairs now, too.
In the meantime, a lot of us are stepping up. As some of us valiantly fight you directly, most of us are asking new questions, figuring out how we can help one another, and our communities are getting stronger in the process. For example, people are now seeing that it isn’t just the rich and powerful to add to our cultures. These days, we’re coming together to acknowledge how much we depend upon grocery clerks, letter carriers, bus drivers, delivery people and other unsung, often forgotten, heroes in our daily lives. We’re giving them a newfound admiration typically reserved for safety officers, first responders and health care workers on the front lines of the battle.
Others are pitching in to help food pantries so that the perfect strangers who need help have something to feed their kids. Some are looking out for their neighbors in ways they’ve never done before. This sense of community and compassion is making us stronger than ever. I bet you didn’t bargain on that.
I live in the United States. Here, we had tons of problems long before you ever arrived. You may not appreciate this but what you’ve done is making us think again about how fragile things are in our day to day existence. That something so small as you can create such disruption is giving us a lot to think about, mostly about how grateful we have to be for all we have, that we can never take it for granted, and that today — even with its hardships — is a gift to cherish. We’re asking big questions too, like why some of us are more vulnerable to you than others — people who can’t afford to keep physical distance from others, or those without financial resources, members of some racial cultures, or even the wherewithal for a connection to the Internet so their kids can still go to school.
You’re making us think about the huge chasm of opportunity and health between those in our bunch who have more wealth than they need and those who are one paycheck away from homelessness.
I hope this reflection stuff lasts long after you’ve become a footnote in some medical textbook.
So, COVID-19, consider all this carefully and pass it along to your buddies. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
Not at all yours,