April 13 – 19: “What are we learning from the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak?

thriller-roundtable-logo5This week we’re joined by ITW members Humphrey Hawksley, Tim Waggoner, Alex Lettau, Richard Z. Santos, Ed Ruggero, Cara Putman and Carole Lawrence while they discuss the coronavirus: As thriller writers, what are we learning from the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak? Scroll down to the “comments” section to follow along. You won’t want to miss it!

 

Humphrey Hawksley is an author and foreign correspondent. His work with the BBC has taken him to crises all over the world, and he lectures widely at venues such as Center of Strategic and International Studies in D.C. and the RAND Corporation in California. MAN ON EDGE is the second in the much-praised Rake Ozenna series which was launched in 2018 with MAN ON ICE, set on the US-Russian border.

 

Ed Ruggero is a West Point graduate and former Army officer who has studied, practiced, and taught leadership for more than twenty-five years. His client list includes the FBI, the New York City Police Department, CEO Conference Europe, the CIA, the Young Presidents Organization, and Forbes, among many others. He has appeared on CNN, The History Channel, the Discovery Channel, and CNBC. Ruggero’s previous work includes the nonfiction books Duty First: West Point and the Making of American Leaders and The First Men In: U.S. Paratroopers and the Fight to Save D-Day. He lives in Philadelphia.

 

Alex Lettau is the pen name of Ludwig Alexander Lettau MD, a former medical epidemiologist with the CDC and current infectious disease specialist based in Charleston SC where he writes infection-related medical thrillers. In his Indie award-winning debut novel Yellow Death, the protagonist Kris Jensen, infected with an unknown lethal hepatitis virus, has only five days left to find answers to its origin. She survives to become a series protagonist! Look for Night Plague coming in 2020 in which a virus that causes insomnia triggers widespread violence in a Southern town. Kris Jensen races to solve the epidemic before it spreads nationwide.

 

Carole Lawrence (Carole Buggé, Elizabeth Blake) is a New York-based suspense writer, performer, composer and prize-winning playwright and poet.  Edinburgh Twilight, Book 1 of the Ian Hamilton mysteries, is a best seller on Amazon.  Titan Press recently reissued her two Sherlock Holmes novels, The Star of India and The Haunting of Torre Abbey.  Her Lee Campbell thrillers, under the name C.E. Lawrence, include Silent Screams and its sequels, are about a criminal profiler chasing serial killers in New York City.  The first book of her Jane Austen Society Mysteries is Pride, Prejudice and Poison.

 

Tim Waggoner has published nearly fifty novels and seven collections of short stories. He writes original dark fantasy and horror, as well as media tie-ins, and his articles on writing have appeared in numerous publications. He’s won the Bram Stoker Award, the Horror Writers Association’s Mentor of the Year Award, and he’s been a multiple finalist for both the Shirley Jackson Award and the Scribe Award. He’s also a full-time tenured professor who teaches creative writing at Sinclair College in Dayton, Ohio.

 

Richard Z. Santos received an MFA from Texas State University. He is a board member of The National Book Critics Circle, and his fiction, essays, and reviews have appeared in multiple publications, including The San Antonio Express-News, Kirkus Reviews, The Rumpus, The Morning News and The Texas Observer. Previously, he was a political campaign operative. A high school English teacher in Austin, Texas, this is his first novel.

 

Cara Putman is the author of more than thirty legal thrillers, historical romances, and romantic suspense novels. She has won or been a finalist for honors including the ACFW Book of the Year and the Christian Retailing’s BEST Award. Cara graduated high school at sixteen, college at twenty, completed her law degree at twenty-seven, and received her MBA. She is a practicing attorney and teaches undergraduate and graduate law courses at a Big Ten business school.

 

48 Comments
  1. “May you live in interesting times” has been said to be an English translation of a Chinese curse but is actually more likely apochryphal. In my 40 years of infectious disease training and practice encompassing emerging infections such as HIV/AIDS, toxic-shock syndrome, H1N1 influenza. Community-acquired MRSA, West Nile virus and SARS, nothing approaches the COVID-19 pandemic that we are all experiencing. I have my perspective as an infectious disease specialist and thriller author, but COVID-19 is affecting (hopefully not infecting!) all of us. I look forward to a robust roundtable.

    COVID-19 is a coronavirus and this is the first viral pandemic that is not due to an influenza virus. SARS was a more severe coronavirus infection that emerged in 2002 but never became pandemic. It is important to understand the reason. SAR coronavirus infection had a 10% mortality but essentially all infected patients were recognizably ill and were not infectious to others prior to onset of symptoms. This enabled effective contact tracing and quarantine that eventually snuffed out the outbreak after about 8000 cases and almost 800 deaths. We were very lucky. COVID-19 has only a 1-2% death rate but has proven impossible to contain because a) patients are infectious at least 2 days prior to any symptoms, b) 30-60% of cases are mild or asymptomatic (but still infectious), and c) patients can shed virus for up to 2 weeks after symptoms resolve. Widespread testing can tell you what’s going on in a community but we have not achieved that to date anywhere in the US and false negative test results can occur. Compounding the diagnostic dilemma is that the symptoms of COVID infection overlap with every other respiratory virus. Social distancing and maybe masking will hopefully slow transmission through communities enough so that their hospitals will not be overwhelmed.

    These Coronaviruses are very likely zoonoses (animal infections that are transmissible to humans). Big trouble arises when the infection is then easily transmitted human-to-human. All of the pandemics in history whether bacterial or viral, have been zoonotic infections. I highly recommend the book “Spillover” by David Quammen, a science writer for National Geographic, for anyone interested in fascinating details of the animal origins of SARS. HIV, Ebola, influenza, as well as Hendra, Marburg and Nipah viruses, Q fever and more.

    A few observations re the COVID pandemic:

    The fear factor. Fear spread faster than the virus, although the virus managed to make its way around the world pretty darn fast. In the US, xenophobic incidents occurred, hoarders started hoarding and preppers accelerated their prepping well before the virus arrived. Why such fear over a virus that mainly threatens the elderly/immune-compromised patients similar to seasonal influenza (albeit with a 10 fold higher mortality)? I think it’s the newness and unpredictability combined with the lack of both a vaccine and an effective anti-viral drug treatment. Imagine the fear if the mortality were 10-20 or 50%! Would the passengers on an infected cruise ship commandeer the lifeboats?

    Another observation is how politics and governmental response can influence the course of the epidemic in a country. I’m amazed that China has kept COVID out of its other major cities – there are at least 5 bigger than Wuhan and all with populations in the 20-40 million range. China may yet see a second wave. In the US, all of our major cities are in for major trouble. The basis is multifactorial but our leadership has a small government-big business mindset at a time when we need a big government-small business response. Enough said about politics.

    It’s fascinating to see how a low tech intervention namely social distancing can make a difference in mitigation of the outbreak. It remains to be seen how compliant society will remain if this drags on for months. Millennials are not used to being denied their entitlements and social pleasures. Then again they are probably the most adept at social media-based mutual commiseration. Maybe they will more appreciative of their lives after experiencing some hardship, or maybe not. It’s a twist that the internet and social media have been criticized as damaging to in-person social interaction yet now are the salvation of not only socialization but also many jobs in this time of social separation.

    So far, other than antiviral wipes, masks, and ventilators, nothing seems to be in short supply, except for toilet paper! Maybe someone has a good explanation for that phenomenon. I guarantee that standard bathroom tissue is not virucidal. Guns don’t seem to be in short supply – yet. Gun stores remain open as essential businesses and sales are brisk. I read that the FBI processed almost 4 million firearm background checks in March. One legacy of the Covid-19 pandemic will be that more Americans than ever will own guns. In open-carry states, will we see a gunfight over the last 12-pack of Charmin? I hope not. I worry more about the worsening mental stress of social isolation and loss of jobs/income resulting in more domestic violence, depression and suicide attempts. Guns in the home enable a higher rate of a lethal outcome.

    COVID-19 deaths mainly occur in the elderly with co-morbid conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, emphysema, and cancer. Most young people are only mildly ill or not at all with some exceptions. The basis for severe infection in a young person is presumably genetic. What if — in the future, everyone knows their genetic profile and an untreatable virus comes along that is 100% fatal to the third of the population without a certain gene whereas those with the gene are chronic non-ill carriers? The carriers are infectious to those without the gene. I can envision plenty of conflict and ethical dilemmas in that scenario which is more real world than any zombie apocalypse. The solution? – gene therapy or maybe stem cells? Some of the gene carriers might just want Nature to run its course.

    I look forward to a lively discussion and could we all please refrain from using the phrase “ripped from the headlines”?

  2. Alex responded as a doctor and scientist. I’m responding as a writer.

    We are living through a real-time, worldwide workshop on how character is revealed in action.

    My military experience and work with business leaders taught me that a person’s true character comes out under pressure. Tension, high-stakes, sleep and food deprivation, uncertainty—if you are, at heart, a good person, you’ll still be a good person when things go haywire. If you are, as my Texas friends say, “All hat and no cattle,” that’ll come out, too.

    The current pandemic has stressed individuals—I’m thinking here of our friend Andrea, suiting up for another shift in the ICU treating Covid-19 patients—as well as nearly every organization. Universities are unsure how they’ll start fall classes and if anyone will be in the seats. Millions of small business owners are wondering how they’ll pay their rent and how—and if—they’ll start up again at some point in the hazy future. We might add, to the Covid-19 playlist, the old British drinking song, “The World Turned Upside Down.”

    This is, sadly, a perfect time to study how real people act under stress. We can observe—at a distance, of course—how humans reveal their true selves through their actions. We can then recreate that process of revelation through the actions of our protagonist and antagonists. And we’ll look forward to the day when the worst stress most people face is vicarious and between the pages of a good book.

    Writers have the option of creating tension for their fictional creations, who will then respond well or poorly, but who will almost certainly reveal, in those reactions, their deepest selves.

    1. Nice point Ed! I think as writers it’s important to look at how people are reacting (the good, the bad, the calm, the panicked, often all at the same time!) and make sure our characters are reacting truthfully to the scenarios we put them in.

  3. I think there are so many layers we’re learning.

    As writers, we need to think about how do we reference this in books that release in the next year. I’m in macroedits for my next book, which has some medical overtones. I’ve had to reference how COVID has changed things even though my crystal ball is very foggy right now. We’ve been having this conversation on a writing loop I’m on as well. Some authors are choosing to ignore it believing everything will go back to the way it was. We just had our fifth Sunday with online church, and I think what makes it so hard right now is we don’t know when things will begin the march back to normal and what that new normal will be. I lived in Northern VA and worked in DC on 9/11. I remember how eerie it was when Reagan National had no flights. When we wondered what airports would look like. It feels like we’re living a similiar situation only even more tenuous.

    Because I also teach at a BIG 10 university, I’m thinking about wider consequences as well. And then the lawyer in me sees all the ways our society may be changing at a fundamental level. You could say my brain is full!

    Alex and Ed hit on key themes as well. I think the uncertianty aspect is what will be most telling. How long will we willing distance ourselves? What will universities look like? What about malls? Football stadiums? What will happen to the millions who are unemployed because of the mandated shelter-in-place orders? What will be the toll on children who lost a quarter of a year of education? What about supply chain issues? International travel? What will airlines look like? What will happen in this year’s election?

    I don’t have many answers, but I have a lot of questions…and those lead to interesting what ifs for books. But I do think readers on whole won’t want to relive this in books…not yet. We’re going to long for an escape…especially if this drags on too long.

    1. I’ve been thinking a lot about these same issues Cara. How should we reflect current events in our novels. I don’t know the answer–if there even is an answer. I have a feeling we’ll have many years of movies and novels in which this isn’t really mentioned. Not every movie after 2001 featured the characters pausing and reflecting about how everything had changed. Not every movie during WWII, much less after, reflected the events directly.

      My own novel is set in the world of politics but I decided not to mention any actual, living politics because it would be too distracting. Maybe I’m being too hopeful and we won’t be able to avoid the long-term impact of the pandemic but…wow I hope not!

  4. I agree with Cara and Ed about the high levels of mental, physical and financial stresses. Magnifying the stress levels is the uncertainty of how long this will last. The problem is no one knows how much transmission has occurred in a given community and what the potential is for a second wave flareup. The hope is that antibody testing will reliably tell us who has been infected and is now immune – a ticket to safely return to full social interaction. The tests done to date have only looked for active virus infection in the nasopharynx. I think we are going to find that a significant proportion of the population has already experienced infection.

    Once we get some good drug treatments and a vaccine I think we’ll pretty much to return to a new normal. Not sure what that will look like exactly but there will be increased surveillance and readiness for the next pandemic which would more likely be influenza.

    I agree with Cara that people are not ready to read about this in a novel when they are experiencing it on a daily basis.

  5. I’ve had a similar issue with my current wip in regard to how much current events should be mentioned. Here in Aus we’ve just come through those horrendous months of raging bushfires and the coastal and rural communities worst affected haven’t come anywhere near recovering. My story is set in one of those areas but I made it the following Christmas so characters could reference it in passing but who knows how long this virus will be around?

    Aus has shutdown almost completely but our government got onto it early and hard (and in a truly bipartisan, unified state and federal way that has been very impressive and rare) so we’re coping pretty well but they keep telling us this will be at least 6 months in duration–stay at home, no more than 2 people out together unless it’s a family group, only go out for essential reasons, stay 1.5 mtrs apart when shopping and exercising, kids are doing schoolwork at home, people are working at home. It’s working but as far as knowing what to write about the aftermath… I’m focussing on the events facing my characters –Christmas and a wedding with suspense elements but also humour because I wanted to write something funnier after a series of darker stories. Kind of in the Death At A Funeral vein but a wedding instead of the funeral

    An eternal optimist, I prefer to write about the things to be celebrated after having come through this horror year.

    1. It’s been such a hard season for y’all. I’m so sorry. I think humor is key in these times. We have to keep our sense of humor. I intentionally picked up a book this week written by one of my friends. But I picked it up because I knew it would help me laugh and release stress. People/readers will still want to escape into a good story.

  6. Good morning, everyone, from London where our colorful prime minister, Boris Johnson, has just left the hospital in which he nearly died from COVID-19 a few days ago. Possibly like Nine-Eleven, our reaction to Covid-19 will provide a new backdrop for our story-telling. The elements are semi-Dystopian with, as Ed, Cara and Alex pointed out, high levels of mental, physical and financial stress. In Britain, we have no constitutional transfer of power. Our deputy prime minister, Dominic Raab, was nominated just before Johnson ended up in intensive care. Accounts of the political infighting read like an edge-of-your-seat thriller. There are the cover ups of who knew what when, scientific advice versus political popularity, the shortage of equipment. There is the authoritarian element ranging from police arresting people for sunbathing to Hungary’s already repressive Viktor Orban suspending parliament and ruling by decree. From that comes the wider canvas of the weakness of the European project with member states competing against each other for face masks, China’s role in the virus’ spread and the character of the regime which covered it up. In the genre of the domestic psychological thriller, there is the Lord of the Flies specter where a model happy family disintegrates into competing monsters or a warring family overcomes its internecine loathing to come together and battle the odds. The role of big pharma and tech giants is an interesting play given that, certainly in Britain, they have been in the targets of attacks about paying taxes and hiking prices. Now, we’re all badly needing them for a vaccine and to stay in touch with each other. My personal favourite, which I keep shaking off is the conspiracy theory. I made a film in Aralsk, Kazakhstan where in the 1970s smallpox escaped from a Soviet weapons plant and infected the crew of a trawler. I interviewed the sole crewman who had survived smallpox and reported on exactly how the Soviets had shut the community down.

    1. Humphrey, I’ve watched what was happening in London with keen interest. Your city is one that is at the top of my family’s list to travel to when we can travel again. So strange to even type that.

      But you’re right. This situation has dystopian edges to it. So many ways to write about it!

  7. We’re learning that people adapt more quickly than we expect to challenging circumstances, and that they seek ways to create a new normal as fast as they can. New customs emerge, such as children’s chalk drawings which I’m seeing throughout my neighborhood, sharing positive messages, and people putting stuffed animals in their windows for children to count while on walks with their parents. In general, people turn toward each other, not away. People also seek ways to combat boredom and depression, and our technology is enabling us to stay connected in ways we couldn’t have done only a couple decades ago. We’re also learning — at least in America — that people expect little support from their government and rely on themselves in times of crisis. All of these things are important to keep in mind the next time any of us write an apocalypse story.

    1. Yeah I agree Tim! I think certain tropes in apocalyptic movies/books are going to have to be closely examined. I, for one, think we’ll never see another disaster movie where the US Government has been secretly building spaceships, or can quickly build an ark, or can do much of anything quickly and to scale. I’m afraid the notion of the might of the US Gov’t smashing a problem has gone out the window!

    2. Tim: I’m looking forward to seeing what positive things stay with us after this is over–like kids’ chalk drawings. I’m also curious as to how this will shape the outlook of young people. Will it have a long-lasting effect, as the depression did on that generation? My son is a sociology professor and he and his colleagues are anticipating fundamental shifts in societal structures.

      1. Yes, Ed, me, too! And Tim, I’ve loved watching that turning to each other. The other thing I think we’re learning in living color is that social media is not the same as being physically with people we like and love. We’ve had more zoom calls with my family in Nebraska than ever, but we still miss our people. Knowing we can’t see our friends from church or work colleagues has made our lives feel small. So there are definitely interesting elements we need to remember as writers. In my just released novel 9/11 was a part of the heroine’s reaction to current (in the book) events. I can see in the future that characters will react out of their memories of this event.

  8. The other day I was asked if I was currently or ever would write about the pandemic. I don’t feel any need to write about the pandemic currently and who knows what I’ll write in the future. Maybe with some distance I’ll turn back to these times–maybe in memoir?

    What I do know is that this situation is forcing me to look back at my novel-in-progress. I have a completed draft of a novel set after the revelation of a big conspiracy has thrown the country into crisis for two weeks. Electricity and internet go out, corporations and banks dissolve, waves of suicide across the country, schools have to close, the President is arrested, etc. (I swear the novel is kind of funny to be honest)

    The novel isn’t about those two weeks. Instead, it’s a mystery set just as things start to go back to normal. But I’ve realized that my characters aren’t reacting to those two lost weeks the way they should. They’re too…normal. They’re not crying because the internet is back. They’re not scared of leaving their homes. I have to go back and re-examine the whole thing! I think once this social distancing is cracked even a tiny bit people will rush to fill those public spaces (even if that then pushes us back into quarantine).

    So I don’t know if I’ll write about the pandemic. But I know I’ll be looking at all my characters a lot more closely.

  9. It’s interesting to me that Americans always feel they need to “learn something” from a crisis – and maybe they’re right. I think maybe writers are even more given to absorbing “lessons” – perhaps because we have to keep learning to play our trade.

    One thing I’ve “learned” is – big surprise – medical workers are AWESOME. I had personal experience of that with four recent surgeries (nothing life threatening; I’m fine) – my takeaway was really about how hard they work and how amazing, skillful and accomplished they are. One of my favorites was a Japanese nurse, who bowed every time she came in to help me. And now I can add incredibly courage to their long list of virtues.

    But my own addiction to stories right now also has taught me that we too have a role to play, however humble, in keep people functioning and getting through this crisis. People need stories – which means they need us. Thank god. The worst thing right now would be feeling useless. Instead we can just keep doing what we’ve been doing all along – oh, and donate when we can to charities supporting essential workers, like Meals4Heroes, World Kitchen, and so on.

    Rock on, my friends, and stay safe!

  10. And thanks so much to Alex for the very informative take on this from a scientist’s perspective. I learned a lot – especially interesting was your suggestion that young people who are hit hard may have a genetic component.

    My sister is an ED nurse outside Atlanta, and she had a young patient early on – a Taekwondo instructor, fit, 22 years old, who was intubated almost immediately. He is not doing well. And we all know of similar cases, sadly. So there are still many medical mysteries here.

  11. Reading through the discussion, what about the small things, the handshake, the hug, the peck on the cheek. Even when lockdowns are lifted, will we now indefinitely adopt different mannerisms? Will we need to show a Covid-19 immune certificate before going on a date? How do we write these givens of normal social behaviour into a novel that’s coming out a year from now.

    1. Humphrey, those are the kinds of things that could drive me insane as I finish macro edits on my book that releases in January. I want to believe we’ll go back to “normal,” but as I listen to my colleagues at a major university talk about what they are comfortable with about students coming back to class, my jaw’s hit the floor a couple times. It’s been one or two of the younger faculty who seem the most nervous and scared. Maybe a lack of having lived through other crises, but they’re the ones I would have expected to be like me and ready to run back to the classroom.

  12. I think we will eventually return to hugs and kisses although maybe do more fist and elbow bumps in lieu of handshakes. We are, after all social, animals.

    COVID-19 is likely here to stay but we will develop effective antivirals and a vaccine to help control it. It is also important to understand that the typical natural history of such events is that the human disease gets milder over time. This is from a combination of the micro-organism attenuating (becomes less virulent) and stronger immunity of the population. Evolutionary-wise it is not in the microbe’s best interest to kill its new host. Death is a generally a dead end for further transmission. When we run a “respiratory virus panel” on a nasopharyngeal swab taken from a patient, the secretions on the swab are tested for 14 viruses including 4 Coronavirus strains (229E, HKU1, NL63, and OC43) all of which only cause cold type infection symptoms. It is certainly plausible that in the distant past, one or more of these strains caused a severe respiratory COVID-like illness.

    No question that when microbes encounter and infect non-immune human or animal populations, the resultant disease is more severe. The best fictional example of this is when the Martians succumbed to our cold viruses and common colonizing bacteria. A real life example is syphilis. When the syphilis bacteria appeared in Europe in the late 15th century, it was a severe, often lethal infection termed “the Great Pox”. It ravaged Europe and an international blame game ensued. It was called “the French disease” by the English and Germans, “the Spanish disease” by the French, “the Polish disease” by the Russians, “the Turkish disease” by the Persians, and so on. Insensitive societal blame lives on with references to COVID as “the Chinese virus” or Kung flu. Early reference to AIDS as “the Haitian disease” is another example. Undoubtedly, however, some people in other countries to this day refer to AIDS as “the American disease” even though it clearly originated in Africa as detailed by Quammen in his book “Spillover”.

    Louis Pasteur is quoted as having said, “the microbes will always have the last word”. COVID-19 caught us with our guard down but I’m confident we will overcome it. This is bad, but it is not “the big one” on the pandemic Richter scale. The hope is that we will be readier for the next pandemic when it does occur.

  13. I would answer that by saying there really are two scales in play. The disease severity scale is maybe a four while the society/commerce disruption scale is seven or eight. This disconnect suggests we may be overreacting to the virus. Some of this is rooted in the fact that this is a new virus and not so predictable. Another factor was that the Chinese only counted relatively severe cases and essentially ignored the asymptomatic and mild cases. This pumped up the apparent death rate. The analysis becomes philosophical when we consider that our society values life. How much societal disruption could we or should we put up with to save lives?

    1. let me also say that the end of the story hasn’t been written. There are huge populations in Asia,. Africa, and South America that may yet suffer quite a bit from this virus.

  14. Interesting. What about the conspiracy theory of it being a leak from from a weapons plant. Some suggestions are that if it were ‘manufactured’ it would have shown up at an early stage of the sequencing which China has released. Others that its system is different to other corona strains and appears to have maximum effectiveness at disabling societies and people.

    1. It seems to me I read somewhere that COVID-19 closely matches up with a bat coronavirus. How it got from bats to humans may never be known. There may also have been a second animal host involved. The initial human infections may have been mild or even asymptomatic so I doubt we’ll ever know. Now the Chinese are stifling research into the origins of COVID-19 which I suppose lends credence to conspiracy theories.

  15. Fascinating information, Alex – thank you! Another example of a population being ravaged by new pathogens is the Native American reaction to the arrival of Europeans, if I’m not mistaken?

  16. You are right. Smallpox and measles in particular were devastating to Amerindian populations who were totally susceptible. Syphilis in the form of the “Great Pox” appeared in Europe about the time of Columbus’ return from the New World and it may have come from America.

  17. Well, it sounds dark to say it, but it’s some measure of justice that the Native Americans had at least some revenge for what we did to them (I say “we,” as I have entirely Northern European ancestry.) So…. yeah.

    Do you have any thoughts about a theory I’ve heard going around, the notion of “viral load?” There seems to be some talk about that right now.

  18. Indeed. There are these phrases like ‘viral load’ and ‘herd immunity’ that have never been in the public domain before, although well known among infectious disease professionals. Herd immunity sounds like something straight out of the Walking Dead.

  19. The viral load being talked about refers to frontline healthcare workers getting a larger exposure to the COVID virus. The question is whether the heavier exposure dose is more likely to cause severe illness. There is some suggestion of that in influenza but it’s unknown for COVID. There are likely other factors at play here. There is no question that sleep deprivation and exhaustion weaken the immune system. Sleep deprived persons are much more likely to have significant symptoms of respiratory infections than a well- rested control group.

    Herd immunity refers to a population that is largely immune to a specific infectious agent either by vaccination or by natural infection. When the infectious agent is introduced into the “herd” , no sustained transmission occurs because any infected person is unlikely enough to encounter another susceptible during the time frame that they are infectious.

  20. Yes, I’m familiar with the herd immunity concept regarding the anti-vaccine movement. The scary thing is that parents who refuse to vaccinate their children against measles are endangering not only their kids but everyone else as well. And their views are ridiculous, based on misguided “libertarian” non-science. Scary.

    I can conceive of a science thriller in which such people band together and cause another pandemic. I’m not the person to write it, but maybe you are, Alex?

  21. I think the anti-vaccine people tend to band together over the Internet rather than in person. I had planned to eventually write a pandemic novel and it was going to involve a coronavirus. No one knows why the woolly mammoths died off about 10,000 years ago. Maybe they were hunted to extinction by man or maybe it was a coronavirus. So when global warming melts the permafrost and exposes a chemically preserved mammoth, a dog or a wild animal chews on the carcass and it takes off from there. But I’m not sure how to chemically preserve a virus for 10,000 years so maybe it would be more realistic to have Russian biowarfare scientists reconstruct it. Then the virus escapes from their lab to conquer the world.

  22. Isn’t that the premise of 1997 Kolymsky Heights by Lionel Davidson — a virus that lived within a mammoth discovered in the Siberian wastelands. I got to see some of the Soviet classified documents on how they handled the 1971 smallpox leak from the biowarfare plant on Vozrozhdeniya Island in the Aral Sea. What strikes me compared to how China and the rest of the world dealt with COVID-19, is that the Soviets absolutely knew the high stakes of what would happen if the virus got further than Aralsk. The town was shut down and everyone was vaccinated. The Biological Weapons Convention did not come into force until 1975 and smallpox eradicated 1979.

    1. I haven’t read it. After looking at the summary and reviews on Amazon, it looks to be more of a spy thriller. If I ever get around to writing that story I’ll be sure to read it. Thanks for pointing it out.

  23. That’s very interesting, Humphrey – one thing about the US vs. more totalitarian regimes is that not only does the government have a lot less power, but we have some real crazies who defy common sense, like the idiots in Michigan yesterday.

    That’s a great premise, Alex – wow. The way I see science premises is that A) the public doesn’t know nearly as much as you do, and B) they will happily buy even an outrageous premise if you do the “legwork,” as Crichton did in Jurassic Park. I think most people knew you couldn’t retro-engineer a dinosaur, but he worked so hard to explain the “science” that most people thought, oh, hell, let’s give it to him. So I think you could sell a premise like that pretty easily, with your background. (:

    1. I make every effort to make the science at least plausible. In my other work in progress, my infectious disease specialist protagonist has to deal with a mad virologist serial killer who offs his victims with a hybrid rabies virus. One spritz up the nose and the victim is dead in three days of raging encephalitis. At first I was going to have the bad guy hybrid rabies and a cold virus but rhinoviruses are too different from rabies and viruses don’t normally hybrid with each other. Rabies is a rhabdovirus and as luck would have it, I found another rhabdovirus called vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV) that also involves the nasopharynx and would be a more plausible virus to hybrid. Even better, VSV is endemic on one of the coastal Georgia islands and could even hybrid naturally in an animal such as a wild
      boar. So that will be the source of my virologist’s murder weapon.

  24. Michigan is fascinating. It wasn’t just protest. It carried such personal vitriol that it could have been the opening of a Dystopian pandemic thriller. I just got off the phone with government people who are piecing together China’s timeline on what was revealed, what was classified, who was arrested and so on. That in itself could be an edge of your seat read, given the stakes involved both as a pandemic and for the future of China’s standing and relations with the US and wider world. One key thing is that the first diagnoses were not from people at the live animal market. Another is that after the genome was sent from Wuham to Shanghai it was apparently classified, but the Shanghai people still sent it to WHO. Does that sound feasible, Alex?

  25. I don’t know. It is possible that this came naturally from a bat coronavirus but the research lab that studies such animal viruses is in Wuhan. I doubt it was a deliberate release of COVID. We may never know the true story or at least not for a while. I agree it has the makings of a thriller.

  26. What a fascinating premise, Alex – I’ve always loved medical thrillers, and I’m sure I’ll be first in line to read yours.

    That’s an interesting bit of news, Humphrey – and that is so close to the premise of The Hot Zone, the TV Miniseries. There the pathogen jumps from a primate lab to people.

  27. One interesting thing that an article in today’s paper raised was that here in Aus our usual noise making, trouble making, sniping, back biting, dare I say ignorant politicians have shut up and we’re now being treated to regular reports and commentary from experts eg Our chief medical officer and leading doctors, top epidemiologists, medical research scientists, our economics experts etc etc. Very refreshing and reassuring. Everyone’s hoping said pollies will now start listening to the relevant experts on climate change. Even our previously actively disliked PM has shaped up and stopped talking in slogans.

    Will it last? Who knows but this crisis has made many people realise how dependent we are on global markets and that we need to re-establish our domestic industries–perhaps in other areas than the usual.

    1. Elisabeth,
      Could you send some of that over here, please? Especially the shutting up the politicians thing. Of course we have a demented baby “running” our country, so . . . yeah, good luck with that.

  28. Carole, of course it’s not perfect over here but it has been a surprising side effect. True bi-partisan co-operation and state and federal leaders meet everyday to discuss tactics–who knew they could actually manage that? They can though and now I think people know and will expect more in the aftermath. Talk also of restructuring tax and other basic facets of governance while the whole thing is in a heap. Again–will they won’t they? But at least people are thinking outside the box now.

    1. What a good point, Elisabeth – I just read that India is so much less polluted now that there is hope politicians and policymakers will rethink the idea of pollution. It’s as if the virus is a chance to rethink things we’ve all taken for granted for so long.

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