Autobiography of #CoronaVirus Facebook Posts
Updated: Apr 12, 2020
As I write this blog from the #CoronaVirus Epicenter of Queens, NY, I am just learning about the 783 more deaths in New York, consistent with the almost 800 deaths we have seen every day for the past five days. How did we get here? Many ask.
Interestingly enough, I don't ask myself that question. I have been following #Covid19 since it first made big news in Wuhan, China in January. Twitter is wonderful for the real-time sharing of global personal stories on any news, a public diary for many and for the rest of us to watch, unlike the more personal and insular Facebook. I had a few friends who were quarantined in China in late January. They also started posting their own stories during the shutdown. Their posts and those from Twitter were alarming. I started warning immediate family members via our group text. I already knew about the four million Wuhan people who left before the shutdown. In January, a long time ago on the Coronavirus timeline, I already started wondering, Where could they have gone?
But The Flu
The few of us who saw the signs, which were all there for the taking, somehow knew what was coming our way. Unfortunately, we live in the century of disconnect, and if the problem is far away, then it is not going to affect us, an indifferent stance taken even by the most intelligent people I know, both online and off. Many of them even sold and endlessly posted about the now-busted comparisons with the Flu, politicizing why this Coronavirus is taking so much airtime while the "deadlier" Flu hardly made news. "More people die from the Flu," was a constant post and comment on my posts. Explaining to them why the Flu is already endemic, has its own vaccine, and known, was moot. They already made up their minds, for whatever reason, that they were not in danger and there was nothing to worry about. At all.
Autobiography of Facebook Posts
Three months ago, in early January, I started to read Twitter posts about a virus in Wuhan, China. The posts started to pick up towards the end of the month, peaking at the time of the shutdown on January 23rd that affected 11 million people, bigger than NYC. I would take pictures of the Twitter posts and put them on my Facebook. For the most part, I was doing it for myself, a daily self-note. It didn't matter much who read my posts, for as long as I know I could find them and read them again in the future. Many were scientific articles from places I have never read, like The Lancet. At the time, only two of us on my Facebook list, the writer Ninotchka Rosca and I, were posting about the Coronavirus. If I missed an article, I was certain Ninotchka would have posted it already with her own added comment on its geopolitical impact.
On January 24th, posts such as the ones below started appearing on Twitter. It was the day a doctor named Liang Wudong died, the same day I saw a very moving viral post from a woman named Jinhee. A lot of people were dying in Wuhan. The posts from China were also being translated into English for outside readers, making it easier for the global audience like me to absorb. But the images, for the most part, were the most moving. No one had to translate those. There was a certain privilege in being able to witness a disaster from my comfort zone. But this was not an isolated and localized war that could easily be ignored at the closing of a browser. This virus had no concept of geopolitics. Each article I read came with a warning sign, a human story, and many dots that those of us with interdisciplinary backgrounds could hopefully connect.
I don't remember exactly when the CoronaVirus got its official name, but in January, it was simply called the Wuhan Virus. Because no one was paying attention, it wasn't as problematic. The panic stories we are hearing now from American health care workers harkened back to those in China in January: the lack of PPEs, the exhaustion, the deaths of co-workers. Lack of trust in China may have played a role in the laissez faire attitude many took before the global spread. But at the bare bones, the human stories paralleled.
It happened very quickly. The first cases made an appearance in Europe on January 25th. It was the day I bought my N95 masks on Amazon. I had read much about masks at the time. I also started looking for surgical masks in my neighborhood and could no longer find them. I told my family to get their own supplies. And buy masks. N95 masks. Fast forward three months, Facebook friends would start sewing masks for themselves and their friends. Now we are being asked to wear anything to cover our faces. Anything. In January, I was studying how big the holes were on clothing. In January, I knew they were big enough for hundreds of viruses to go through. Anything would not be good enough.
Around the same time, I started preparing my family and co-workers, sending them articles that I was reading about the virus. I thought that its presence in Europe would alarm them if the Chinese news didn't move them a bit. Many live in their own bubbles. Some dislike information. Many don't read. Many believe only what they see. America is heavy with right wing conspiracy theories. These would all play a factor in their overall preparedness. Unfortunately, when this is all over, we will most likely learn that we were so unprepared for what came our way. In January, I felt like a epidemiolgy student. It was the first time I heard of the term Super Spreader, the Typhoid Marys of our time. I started studying it more: how it spreads, death rates, infection rates. incubation period. Worse, how asymptomatic people could spread it. Twitter was rich with data and graphs, many from the curious like myself.
New York Post, a right wing tabloid published an article titled "Don't buy the media hype over the new China Virus," which was happily circulated by the Flu theory types. Conspiracy theories were also sprouting everywhere, especially on how the virus was manufactured in a lab in Wuhan. Anything to distract our attention from the imminent crisis. But those of us with a personally related experience knew better. These news brought me back to the AIDS crisis in the 90s. Something eerily similar about these two viruses, especially in how we were reacting to it. First, the denial that it exists. And then, the rise of personal truths vs. facts. The psychological deflections.
The scientists were always on point. I would learn new words: R-Naught, Zoonotic, and learned how to compute mortality rates, etc. It was the first time I heard a scientist disprove that the virus came from a snake. It was the first time I would listen to a podcast by virologists. Data mattered. In a country where voices of anti-science right-wing Evangelicals are loud and heard, facts mattered even more.
On January 27th, my N95 masks arrived from Amazon. These masks would still be available for at least another month. I posted them on my Facebook. One person was very curious and wanted to get hers as well. After much ado about nothing, she never did.
I would get into arguments about The Flu with friends on Facebook. It was very sad how so many of these people were just blinded by their own truths. But it wasn't surprising. There were a lot of articles supporting their twisted theories at the time. I would freeze most of them for a month, and the succeeding months since. It was my way of silencing the gadflies.
It was hard to explain the word ENDEMIC. And how if this virus becomes endemic, we are in for a big big trouble.
What we would consider ridiculous then -- people wearing plastic bags and all sorts of concoction in the absence of masks and PPEs -- started appearing on Twitter. Chinese families would wrap themselves in plastic when they went outside. Even dogs had face masks. Of course now we know Americans would beat them in this state of public panic, wearing even more ridiculous getups outdoors.
On January 29th, I wore a mask in public for the first time. I managed to buy a surgical mask the night before from a store nearby. I wore it on this day. I also noticed there were only a few of us wearing masks on the train. The first death outside China also happened, and it happened in the Philippines. The much despised Philippine despot allowed Chinese tourists to continue coming into the country despite all the warnings coming out of China. This death would not cause any tremors. It's the Philippines, after all.
I posted my picture wearing a mask on Facebook only to be questioned by people. Not that I ever cared what anyone said. Most people on my Facebook went about their daily business. Some writers, because I have a lot of them on my list, were preparing for their annual pilgrimage to the AWP conference.
I also started posting about global deaths. That evening, 170 died from the virus, a small number compared to what it is now. Today, 20,000 have died in the United States alone, the new epicenter. Most of the deaths in NY are in the borough of Queens where I live. As I type this, I am hearing sirens outside my window. I have been cooped up in my apartment for a straight whole week now, with no desire to go outside. Unfortunately, my husband, a health care worker, still has to go outside to work. Every day is a routine on how to be more careful for both of us. We even have a "decontamination area" in our little apartment. The N95 masks proved to be useful. We were ones of the very few who had them. For him, it was critical to have one.
I kept asking my mother whether she bought her masks. Most members of my family are high risk-- my mother, my brother, my sister, and my Aunt. I wasn't sure then if they understood what was going on around us. But I am very much like my mother who has a strong foresight about many things. I was just hoping that other members of my immediate were seeing what I was texting them about in January.
One of the shows that taught me much about pandemics was Unseen Enemy. It laid out how a virus could easily spread from a meat market in China. I learned about the family of Coronavirus, including MERS and SARS. I also wanted to see what The Flu was doing to its victims. I never heard of a group called Flu Moms until then. I also saw the movie Contagion. It was from the scene when a scientist explained R-Naught that I would learn what infection rates are.
On January 30, 2020. I posted this. A warning and a PSA for my Facebook friends who live in their own bubbles. I sent out a lot of alarms out there. I don't know if anyone of them heard.
In times of crisis, there are always good news. My mother sent me this picture on January 31st. She also sent it to our family group chat with the family matriarch's order to buy. I would sleep a little better knowing that they were ready. My family members are children of World War II, my father being a survivor of a concentration camp. Survival is in our genes. And this is war, albeit worse. We have an unseen enemy. But I got my family ready, and they are all that mattered to me. We stocked up on food. We have our #StaySafe supplies. We are in the three of the top five states heavily impacted by this virus. We will make it through safely. And so will you. #StaySafe. Read the stories from other countries. Share yours. And bless us all.