Wisconsin countryside flashes past. Music on my car radio breaks for a public service announcement. “Wear your mask. Wash your hands.” It feels like the opening scene for a future film titled The Great Pandemic of 2020.
As I imagine it, the documentary flips through late-winter headlines to show growing apprehension about a virus from far away. It shows toilet-paper-laden grocery carts, empty shelves, checkout lines of masked shoppers six feet apart. The camera moves past closed restaurants to an armed horde at the Michigan state capitol toting Confederate flags.
Between hectic hospital scenes, we hear excerpts from interviews and speeches: a nurse exhausted, Fauci calm and factual, Trump saying the virus will vanish like a miracle. We see parents working from home, children studying in the kitchen. Spring and summer scenes fade into election season: packed MAGA rallies, Biden masked in an empty room, postal bins overflowing with ballots, socially distanced voters. A series of autumn headlines shows rising hospitalizations and deaths, with a dire warning not to gather for Thanksgiving. A turkey producer bemoans a glut of large turkeys and too few small ones to meet the demand.
Will the film end with the start of vaccinations, or will it recount twists and turns we can’t yet predict? What would you include if you were writing the script for The Great Pandemic of 2020?
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.