In recent weeks, fear of the coronavirus has spread as rapidly as the disease. Confusion and speculation have also festered. Where did the virus originate? How dangerous is it, really? Are we responding appropriately to the virus, or are we giving in to hysteria?
Some people think we should trust doctors, scientists, and health officials to answer these questions. Others think the truth can be found from talking heads on cable news.
I decided to cut out the middle men and go directly to the source. I reached out to the coronavirus, who is currently living in an undisclosed location on the East Coast and everywhere else on the planet. He immediately agreed to an interview if we could agree upon an appropriate location.
Initially, he suggested getting coffee in Terminal B at LaGuardia Airport. I asked if we could chat someplace cleaner and less depressing, so we met inside a medical waste dumpster at Hackensack University Hospital. What follows is our conversation.
FIENE: I’m not sure what to call you. COVID-19 seems a little formal, but some people have said it’s racist to label you the Wuhan virus. Does that name bother you?
VIRUS: Not at all, I’m very proud of my Chinese heritage. But I’m also really into the whole international thing these days. So if you want to call me the Wuhan virus, cool. But I have lots of other nicknames now too—the Persian Pestilence, Mussolini’s Revenge. People in New Jersey have started calling me “the Jabroni’s Roni.” Those are all good.
FIENE: One of the things that’s caused some confusion is people comparing you to the seasonal flu. Some folks point out that you are perhaps ten times as lethal as the flu, while others have noted that far more people have died of the flu this year. How do you make sense of that?
VIRUS: It’s like when Aerosmith had Guns N’ Roses on their bill back in ’88. The sell-out, hacky headliner may have sold more tickets because they’d been around longer, but the opening act rocked way harder and got way bigger once they came into contact with people.
The flu is lame. He’s old news. Stick me in a room filled with 30,000 sweaty people all sharing Miller Lite and Marlboro Reds and I’ll slay way more than he can.
FIENE: Where would you find a room filled with 30,000 sweaty people all sharing beer and cigarettes?
VIRUS: I don’t know. A Guns N’ Roses concert, I guess.
FIENE: Many people, like Ann Coulter, have suggested that fears of contracting you are overblown because you’re only a serious threat to the elderly? Is that a fair point?
VIRUS: That’s a very fair point if you are fine with old people dying. Which I am.
FIENE: Sticking with the conspiracy theory questions for a moment, Jerry Falwell Jr has suggested that people are making you a bigger deal than you are in order to defeat President Trump. Any truth to that?
VIRUS: In a technical sense, no. In a “please believe that so I can kill you after you fail to take reasonable precautions in order to show loyalty to the president” sense, yes, it’s completely true. Please believe it. Hand washing is for socialists.
FIENE: So the media’s not using you to defeat Donald Trump?
VIRUS: Well, as all the people I’ve killed can tell you, the media aren’t manufacturing a crisis. But yeah, many of them are framing the crisis in a certain way to make the president look bad. I mean, good grief, did you see Paul Krugman celebrating the Down Jones dropping below 25,000 a few weeks ago? I haven’t seen anyone rejoicing over a collapse like that since Socrates’s enemies watched the hemlock kick in.
FIENE: In his address to the nation last Wednesday night, President Trump urged us not to politicize you. But the next day, he and Joe Biden were attacking each other over the crisis. What do you think? As you’re becoming a bigger problem, should people put aside partisan squabbling?
VIRUS: No, people should definitely fight over me.
FIENE: In what way?
VIRUS: Preferably hand-to-hand combat. With spitting.
FIENE: According to doctors, you don’t cause diarrhea or similar problems. Do you have an obligation to tell people they should stop buying a nine-month supply of toilet paper?
VIRUS: I’m actually in contract negotiations for an endorsement deal with Charmin right now, so my lawyer has advised me not to answer that question.
FIENE: You managed to get the NBA, NHL, MLB, and NCAA to suspended athletic activities. Why?
VIRUS: Some people may be surprised to learn this, but I’m a trans exclusionary radical feminist, and I was getting fed up with biological men preventing women from being able to succeed in their athletic competitions. And I just sort of figured you can’t have men in women’s sports if you don’t have sports.
FIENE: With no sports to watch, how would you suggest people pass the time while they’re quarantined at home?
VIRUS: Spend quality time with your children. Read classic works of literature. Make sure to lick your neighbors’ mailboxes.
FIENE: Some people have suggested that you are God’s way of punishing mankind for certain sins. Is that true?
VIRUS: Whenever disaster threatens civilization, you humans have this weird habit of concluding that God is punishing other people for their sins. Amazingly, he’s never punishing you for yours.
Look, here’s what you guys need to understand. You’re all sinners. You’ve all fallen short of the glory of God. And whenever some kind of pandemic sweeps through the world, you should each see this as a reminder that we live in a world of sin and corruption, that you are a part of that sin and corruption, and that you need the forgiveness of Jesus that was poured out for the world on the cross.
It’s like what Christ said in Luke 13: “those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” In other words, if I’m floating around outside your door, don’t go to God whining about the sins of your neighbor. Go to God asking Him to take away your sins.
FIENE: Wow, as a pastor, I have to say, that’s a very theologically accurate take.
VIRUS: Well, you are writing this fake conversation.
FIENE: Good point. Last question. Considering that many people have died of you, do you think it’s inappropriate for people to make light of the coronavirus?
VIRUS: I get it. I’m scary. There’s no vaccine to inoculate you against me as of now. I can infect nursing homes faster than the term “cisgender” infected academia. I’m shutting down your kids’ schools. I’m in danger of destroying your economy. I’m taking the lives of your loved ones, so I understand why some people think it’s inappropriate to joke about me.
But it’s important to remember why people make jokes in troubling times. Humor is often the only weapon that the powerless have against the things that threaten them. As the old saying goes, we laugh so we don’t cry.
So go right ahead. Mock me. Joke about me because, next to prayer, making fun of frightening things that feel out of your control is just about the best coping mechanism you guys have. And I greatly respect you guys for using it.
VIRUS: I mean, not enough to not kill you, but sure.