Snapshots of a Virus

Are we all tired of COVID-19 yet?

For the past eight months (has it been more than half a year, already?!) I've been gathering snapshots of the coronavirus. It's not often that a global pandemic makes microbes visible to us on a daily basis! Most of us have never actually seen a SARS-CoV-2 virion through a microscope, but we microbe-watchers need to be creative and observe our targets aslant, through the ripple affects they cause. For bacteria, that might be the rotten smell and mushy texture of a potato left too long in the fridge. (Don't worry, I won't plague you with photos of that today.) For algae, it might be the green pond scum of millions of photosynthetic cells clumping together. Viruses, being three orders of magnitude smaller than bacteria, are even harder to capture. So this year, I've collected signs of virus—literally.

I'll post a few photos today and come back with more later. I hope these reflections on COVID-19 will break the monotony of our self-isolations, quarantines and masked outings, and give us space to reflect on what a wild moment in time this is. If nothing else, they'll be something to look back on with gratitude when this pandemic is over!

January 26. London. Before COVID, you may have walked past other viruses without noticing. This poster transforms the two spike proteins of the influenza virus (hemagglutinin and neuraminidase, of H5N1 fame) into spiky projections from a globular "FLU."

February 28. Sea-Tac Airport. Back when COVID was a distant a concern to many Americans, I gathered this sign of a different microbe, the hemorrhagic-fever causing Ebolavirus.

March 2. Seattle. As I waited in the lobby of my grandma's retirement home in downtown Seattle, I noticed a foreboding article at the bottom of the front page: "Death at Nursing Home as Virus Spreads in U.S."

March 3, 2020. London. The day after I returned to the UK from a short trip to Seattle, posters featuring northern Italy plastered my school.

March 14. London. Soon, the UK's National Health Service became the most abundant advertiser in the Tube, London's subway system. I particularly liked this black-light depiction of the coronavirus as a glowing green smudge, lurking on doorknobs and fingertips.

March 21. London. By now, items like hand sanitizer and facemasks were in such high demand that pharmacies started posting signs like this "NO FACE MASKS SOLD HERE" to keep out desperate, disappointed customers. I also noted the hand cupping male and female symbols to represent human papillomavirus, a microbe made of non-enveloped DNA.

March 22. London. Some signs told of hasty closures. A hurried employee had taped this hand-written message on the window of American Crew but forgotten to flip the "OPEN" sign above. They'd harbored hope that business might resume as usual on Monday.

March 22. London. Other signs just seemed suddenly, hilariously out of date.

March 23. London. It might have been coincidence, but I noticed that Italian restaurants were particularly emotional in their responses. "We are fully focused on getting through this awful period and want to thank so many people for their words of support, kindness and generosity to our teams," wrote Franco Manca pizzeria.

March 23. London. This reflective plaque in Regent's Park captured me in what would become a familiar position—kneeling and scrunching my face to photograph COVID signs. This one threatened that if Londoners continued to be naughty and socialize in crowds, "we will have no choice but to close the parks."

March 25. London. Other signs, like this one in angular capitals, responded to the growing evidence that COVID-19 weighed most heavily on the elderly.

March 25. London. A child's drawing in the window of Malletti Italian Lunches on the Go brought together the NHS rainbow and Italian flags with a promise of a better future. This was the last photograph I took in London before scrambling to evacuate across the Atlantic just three days later, which I wrote about here.

That's all for today. See you next time, with some wacky viral representations from this summer in Seattle.