When did you start taking COVID-19 seriously?

And by “seriously” I mean realizing that this is here and you need to take action about it and stop saying stupid shit like “oh it’s just a bad flu” or “X people die of Y anyway”?
I’m thinking almost exactly one month ago Coronavirus was firmly filed in my brain under “someone else’s problem”. In fact, my entire company (about 1200 people) flew out from all over the world to an “all hands” conference in Anaheim, CA for an entire week of sitting in packed rooms full of people, eating and drinking in bars and restaurants and even a night in a packed Disneyland. There was a lot of talking about it over drinks, but obviously not enough to keep us from hanging out in groups.

Although, our company did ban our APAC offices or anyone who had travelled there within the past 2 weeks from attending the conference.
I’m thinking I gave it serious thought about a two weeks later (week of March 8). My company issued a “work from home” order (which we already all sort of do anyway). More concerning, my wife’s company issued “work from home” orders (which they NEVER do) starting the following Monday and we started getting messages about my son’s school having them go remote.

I can’t really pick out a single moment, but for me, probably the biggest one was when they announced they were going to close schools indefinitely.

Finding out that the library system was also going to close really hit home for me, because I volunteer at one facility. I do understand why they did it, however.

For me it was mid February, when I had a dermatologist appointment at Kaiser and everyone was asked at the check-in desk if they had been to or been in contact with anyone who had been to China in the last six weeks.

I first mentioned it in my daily journal on February 29th, so that probably coincides with the day(s) where it was a big enough deal (to me) to mention it. This would’ve been a day or two after the first US death was reported in Washington, and Oregon (where I live) reported its first case.

I would say that’s about when I began to expect my daily life would eventually be altered.

Well, I didn’t ever think it was “just a flu” or irrelevant to me. I have asthma. I heard about it in mid-January, maybe? By the end of January I was talking about precautions with my students. By early February I was buying a little extra food and supplies with each grocery trip and refilling my critical prescriptions. If things didn’t get bad, I’d just have some extra provisions. Both apocalyptic science fiction and my AIDS work informed my idle fantasies and choices.

I wasn’t never in the “it’s just the flu!” camp. As soon as reports came out of China that people were being quarantined and they were building pop-up hospitals, I knew we weren’t dealing with another flu. Still don’t understand why people swallowed lthat line so easily.

But it started to sink in that the shit was getting real when the Europe travel ban happened.

It’s hard to pinpoint an exact date, but it was sometime during the last week of February. On Leap Day I was already thinking that the shit was on it’s way towards the fan and that it was just a matter of time till it arrived. The moment of arrival for me was the night Trump gave his press conference while the NBA was simultaneously shutting down and Tom Hanks was tweeting about testing positive.

ETA: I was also not in the “it’s just the flu” camp. Instead I foolishly assumed it was going to be like SARS, something that would be contained and then eradicated before it got here.

That’s also how I felt at first.

I became aware of the potential threat when Dr. Anthony Fauci did an interview with VOA in late January where he stated than a global outbreak was likely. Soon thereafter, Dr. Gabriel Leung at University of Hong Kong where he estimated as many as 100,000 cases in mainland China, which was more than an order of magnitude of the official numbers. (Fauci and Leung, by the way, are basically the Steve Rogers and Tony Stark of the infectious disease world; between them they have been involved in nearly every serious infectious disease outbreak around the world in the last forty years.) Shortly after that infected people started showing up in Washington and Canada, then California and shortly thereafter in New York.

I started recommending curtailing travel with my staff back in mid-February and worked from home as much as my schedule allowed, and made everyone aware that they could do the same as long as work was getting done. In retrospect I wished I’d been more vocal but at the time the government was taking a wait and see approach and I didn’t want to sound like a conspiracy nutter even though this was exactly how you would expect a fast spreading pandemic to go.

I also have a shelf filled with books on virology, microbial pathogenesis, and epidemiology, so I’m moderately more aware and/or paranoid than the average citizen about the potential of a global pandemic that epidemiologists have been warning of for decades. And frankly, as bad as this is going to be—and it will be horrifying, especially to those on the front lines working in emergency woulds and ICU care wards, especially when they have to start triaging based upon who might make it, who will definitely die, and worst who could survive if they had a month on a respirator but they just don’t have the beds or machines—this is a love tap compared to a serious influenza A outbreak with meningitis presentation or an aerosolized viral hemorrhagic fever that could cut through the population with a 30% or higher infection fatality rate.

This is a warning to start taking the threat of infectious disease seriously. It’s not just a “gay problem”, or an “Africa problem”, or something that just happens to poor people as a consequence of the moral failing of being impoverished. It’s a human problem, and one that needs serious resources to surveil and combat.


By the way, “it’s just the flu,” says everything about the misperception of the public to the threat. Prior to this, epidemiologist were expecting the next global pandemic to be a virulent form of avian or swine influenza. We’re overdue for one by at least a decade, and even though projections about which strains will predominate in a given season have gotten better in the last fifteen or so years, influenza is endemic in the human population (as the SARS-CoV-2 virus will become) and it mutates prolifically so there is never any certainty in those predictions. I used to take a “it’s just the flu” attitude, in part because of the extreme systematic inflammatory response I had to a flu shot twenty-odd years ago but I’ve come to the position that it is extremely critical to do everything possible to limit an outbreak of virulent influenza.


I don’t know just when I started getting concerned, but I do know that my spouse and I had a yelling fight about his refusal to take it seriously on March 8. We have never had a yelling fight before, so the date will probably be ingrained in my mind until I die. I feel badly that it happened, I don’t think anyone anywhere ever changed their minds when someone is yelling at them. It was a week later that he started acting like he was taking it seriously, but he wasn’t. He was just going through the actions because he didn’t want me to yell at him again.

I am young and healthy. He is old with health problems. I really don’t want to be a young, healthy widow, so I will yell at him again if I have to.

When Michigan voted on March 10, I took my kids with me to vote, and made sure we all slathered on hand sanitizer when we got back into the truck. So I was already aware of the seriousness of it then, to an extent. We had also begun stocking up on groceries and staples in the week or so prior.

But the next day, March 11, is when they started cancelling sports, so that’s when we, as a family, started thinking the shit was about to really hit the fan, and we began hunkering down. Then schools began cancelling, after-school activities were cancelling, my wife got the go-ahead to work from home, and I’m home this time of year anyway, so we’re all just at home these days.

I took it seriously in the abstract almost from the beginning, but in the abstract, it was a distant threat. It was something to monitor and prepare for - at some point.

I didn’t think that I needed to start loading up on groceries and staying put until about 2 weeks ago.

I certainly underestimated how bad it would be when the first reports started circulating. It was into March before I really appreciated just how serious the problem was.

BTW, I live in the Seattle area about 2 miles from the Life Care Assisted Living ground zero, and I lived in Shanghai thru ought SARS. I took notice, when my previous companies, one of the largest manufacturers on the planet and possibly the largest private employer in China, restarted SARS era temperature testing of every employee entering the Wuhan factory a few days before Chinese New Year in January. Two days later Wuhan was quarantined. Five days later, i started to WeChat with my good work buddy who was in the IC in the nearby metropolis of Chongqing with coronavirus (he had been at deaths door but got out of intensive care after about 5 days). My estranged wife came back to the US from lockdown in China about 4 February, and no one from the health department checked in.

It got real when I realized that no testing was taking place a couple of short weeks ago. When I saw the number of 20 or 30 or 40 infected, and the deaths in the Assisted Living, I thought it was something to watch but not a major issue. But as soon as I learned that the dozens of cases was based on at best hundreds of tests (and not thousands or tens of thousands), then I got woke.

Honestly, not until I heard the Italy was suffering 500 deaths a day. Of course China had probably already reached that point, but it escaped my attention. All the other numbers had asterisks and caveats. Those numbers confused me. Five hundred dead is shocking round number.
Yesterday the US reported 247 dead. China 9. Italy 683. Spain 656.

After seeing the video of an Italian nurse who stated:" We have stopped counting deaths as there are too many deaths to count in a day".

I realized how serious this virus is after seeing this pathetic video

I started taking it seriously when I saw NYC’s number get so disproportionate to the rest of the nation.

Mid to latter January.