The Terrifying, Liberating Lesson of the Coronavirus Lockdown
Six months later in America, we’re learning how to live again—and to accept the unimaginable.
This is part of Six Months In, a Slate series reflecting on half a year of coronavirus lockdown in America.
A little more than six months ago, I sent a Slack message to Slate’s top editors that said “I think things are about to get really bad, virus-wise. We probably need to start thinking about that.” It was roughly a week before America’s shutdowns began and around the time when New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo was still telling people “there is more fear, more anxiety, than the facts would justify.” At that point, alongside reporting on some of the basic science of the “novel coronavirus,” Slate had told the stories of a Chinese restaurant devastated by xenophobic fear and a woman who had canceled a $24,000 anniversary cruise, and published dispatches from Italy, which at the time seemed like the darkest possible reflection of what might lie ahead. But still, it felt like no one was quite convinced a pandemic was arriving here.
One week later, much of America started to shut down, in some form or another. Slate started to order its employees to work remotely March 11. President Donald Trump gave a speech from the Oval Office that night about the virus, but it felt like it was the suspension of the NBA season and Tom Hanks’ announcement that he’d tested positive that jolted the public consciousness. As the death toll rose, the warnings from abroad got louder alongside our own public health officials’, and it seemed to finally hit many of us that we had to stay inside, isolated, alone, for real, with the occasional sanity-preserving walk. In a span of a few weeks, we went from trying to tell stories of how the virus had disrupted some people’s lives to realizing that the virus was disrupting everyone’s lives, and would be for some time.