The pandemic is the biggest global story in generations, but a year ago with the borders closed, we didn’t know how it would unfold. We asked readers to share and talk about their first text messages about the virus.
Last March, the United States watched the virus spread around the world.
Within weeks of the first recorded case in the United States, the World Health Organization declared it a pandemic, borders closed, and millions began to lose their jobs.
Five people look back the first time “coronavirus” appeared in their text messages – and what they wanted to know at the time.
January 24: ‘suddenly my last year was erased’
As January drew to a close, the country was immersed in a political drama of its own – the Democratic primaries. Austin Wu, who was then in his final year at the University of Iowa, was in the thick of it.
In his spare time, he would knock on the doors of Bernie Sanders and enjoy a Friday beer at the local pub with friends. Like most Iowa residents around the time of the caucus – which determines who will run for president in each party – politicians would visit campus daily to flirt with students in support of their politicians.
Just three days after the United States announced its first case of the virus, Austin was on her way to see Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Campaign Bernie Sanders.
“I spoke in a crowded music hall filled with 600 students,” he said, admitting that it seems strange if we look back at the event now knowing that the virus is already in the country.
In the same text exchange, his mother told him that the Chinese New Year event had been postponed due to the Coronavirus – which he spelled in two words.
Austin, whose father was Chinese and mother Korean, grew up in Iowa and occasionally attended Asian cultural events with his parents.
Many international students on campus have returned home for a winter break and have just returned from China, and tales of the virus have reached his university campus.
Regarding the decision to postpone the Chinese New Year celebration, he said, “People who had direct contact with China were one and a half months ahead of the curve.”
A week later, on January 31, Trump announced an entry ban for travelers to and from China.
In the early days of the pandemic, he recalls his criticism of people on Twitter – including conservative activist Charlie Kirk – who referred to the virus as the Wuhan flu.
But Austin said he was still clueless about how it would end up changing the world for the pandemic.
“I don’t think I realized the true scale of the virus until the first universities on the east coast began to close in early March and my final year was wiped out. I had to go back to live with my father.”
February 29: “We were trying to get it out of there.”
The first coronavirus death in the United States was recorded on February 29, the same day Carmen Gray received a call from her mother’s nursing home.
Two cases of the virus have been recorded at the LifeCare nursing home near Seattle, Washington – the facility her mother lives in.
“I used to go there every day. But on February 29, I got a phone call from them telling me that I could not come for the visit because one of the residents and employees tested positive for the Coronavirus.”
She has sent her sister Bridget the news.
A few days later, her mother tested positive.
“We were very scared. We continued our daily visit outside the window.”
Exposed to the virus, Carmen desperately called health departments and hospitals to find out what to do – but no one had an answer. At that time, there were only 70 recorded cases of coronavirus in the country.
“We couldn’t get any help – there was no public audition at that point. I couldn’t get anyone to tell me what to do or where to go.”
Her mother contracted the disease, but eventually recovered, only to be diagnosed again later that year.
“She’s starting to talk to the dead and there’s still brain fog,” said Carmen, whose mother eventually pulled her from the nursing home to a new facility.
March 6: I didn’t know my mom was going to die after 24 days
Angie Kosiole was preparing to leave the country for the first time in seven years when her friend texted her about going jogging. She joked that she was on her way to Mexico and hoped she would not catch the virus.
A passionate outdoor lover who lives in Montana, this 50-year-old spent the week kayaking in Mexico with a tour group before returning to the US on March 15th.
Coronavirus has dominated many conversations on her trip, but Angie said she was more relaxed than most other travelers.
When she got home, she was at the end of her wonderful journey.
Two days later, her sisters called to tell her that someone had tested positive for the coronavirus at their mother’s nursing home in New Jersey.
“It turned out he was my mom’s roommate,” said Angie. “After a few days, my mom tested positive.”
Her mother, who is 93, was alone. Then things got worse.
When the first cases of the virus appeared in the nursing home, the country decided to evacuate 78 elderly people to a facility 45 minutes away.
Angie’s mother, Annette, was strapped on by people in tight-fitting suits and taken away.
“People were loaded like cattle,” a passerby told US media.
“It was horrible. When I close my eyes, even today, I can still see it.”
The Inge sisters, who lived twenty minutes away, were as powerless as they were on the other side of the country.
“We were never given the option to keep my mother in her place,” said Angie.
“We made desperate attempts to figure out the treatment plan, but there wasn’t any.”
“Within five days of her transfer, on my sister’s birthday, she passed away,” said Angie.
“When I sent this text on March 6, I didn’t know my mother was going to catch Covid-19 and die after just 24 days.”
March 10: “ At this point I knew things were real ”
Every year, Tatiana MacArthur goes to England in March to visit her husband’s family, and it’s the same in 2020.
Although many European countries are already closed, the 33-year-old traveled to the United Kingdom.
She said everything was normal at first. The UK did not go into lockdown until March 23, by which time it was already back in the US.
But her colleagues at home in Wisconsin began to panic as the virus was designated a pandemic – on March 11th – by the World Health Organization.
“I came back from dinner one night and had several letters and emails from my boss at home,” which turned out to be the first hint of the virus in her text messages.
“She was telling me I wouldn’t be allowed into the office when I came back and I would need to be quarantined.”
On March 12, President Trump stopped travel from Europe.
Although the ban did not initially extend to the UK, Tatiana and her husband were stuck in long lines for hours at Chicago’s O’Hare airport. People have been astonished by photos circulating on social media of the airport rife with panic for travelers trying to return home to the country after the lockdown was imposed.
“It was one of the Disney World lines where it doesn’t show you everything but it turns around corners,” she said.
There were signs warning travelers to stay socially distant, but they were crammed “shoulder to shoulder” due to the unexpected influx of travelers.
“We could hear people coughing. People stood in line for more than five hours just to pass customs,” she said.
“I naively thought it would be better to manage it than it was, but at this point I knew things were real.”
March 23: “ We were making decisions in the blind ”
Reverend Marshall Hatch says his first conversation about the Coronavirus was not in text form because he and his 73-year-old sister Roda didn’t text often. But he remembers the phone call as if it was yesterday.
It was one of the last time he spoke to Roda.
After attending a friend’s funeral with guests from outside the city, asthma in Roda began to take its toll on March 16th.
Her doctor scheduled an appointment for a coronavirus test.
Then she called her brother to tell him she’d get one the following week – the call that Marshall clearly remembers.
Roda’s asthma worsened overnight, and on March 25, Marshall took her to the emergency room.
Roda had suffered from worsening asthma attacks throughout her life, but this one felt different.
Marshall said, “Roda said it didn’t feel like a normal asthma attack – it felt different and was more tired.”
A few days later, the doctor called Marshall and asked for permission to intubate Roda.
“Throughout that week, we were making decisions without forgetting,” Marshall said.
He believes he would have made better decisions about her care if he knew more about the virus, and he thinks doctors could have known that too.
He begged the hospital to let him visit her for the last time.
They finally agreed because she was still technically an asthmatic, not a Covid ward. Ultimately, she tested positive for Covid, and she passed away on April 4.