Laila Lalami in the Los Angeles Review of Books:
FEBRUARY WAS ONLY six months ago, but it belongs to a different era. Back then I still thought that, notwith-standing different private interests, moral values, and group allegiances, the United States could still function as a democratic society. I remember I was visiting Amherst College to take part in a public conversation with the novelist Susan Choi on the art of fiction. After the event, we signed books, shook hands with attendees, and went to dinner with our hosts in a packed restaurant. The next morning, I took a walk around the campus, ending up at the local bookstore, where I picked up and put down a dozen different novels before settling on one. Phrases like “aerosolized droplets” and “surface contamination” had not yet entered my daily vocabulary.
At the time, the United States had identified only a few dozen cases of the novel coronavirus, most of them linked to an outbreak on the Diamond Princess, a cruise ship that had docked in Yokohama, Japan. Though the disease was difficult to treat, the preventive measures advanced by epidemiologists — washing one’s hands with soap and covering one’s mouth when coughing — were easy. I assumed that COVID-19, like its antecedent SARS, would require a range of federal measures, including the confinement of travelers who came from affected countries. Containment seemed not only possible, but likely.