COVID-19 and the X-Men

“My hand sanitizer bottle says it works on coronavirus that’s just the common cold… why is this any different?” “A ‘novel’ virus, but what does that mean?” 

These are the two best questions that a woman asked me the last time I was in public. 

I wish I’d had this thought when I was talking to her, but maybe it will help you, too. 

Ok. Do you know in X-Men where Jean Grey turns into Phoenix? (Apologies to all people who understand canon better than I do: I’ve only seen the movies and I’m sure that I’m going to get something wrong. Also, maybe: spoilers?)(also, #feminism, I  know this isn’t X-Women…. And why is that anyway? Also, another story.)

So, the X-Men (and women) are mutant humans that have powers. They can heal faster, or freeze things, or make fire, or transfer power, or shoot lasers out of their eyes, or control the weather, or move and manipulate things with their minds. They have these powers because they have mutations on their genes. 

Viruses mutate, too. 

We’ve studied the way that the Flu virus mutates because those mutations are what let us know which things to change and adapt when it is time to make a new vaccine. Usually the changes are gradual, and mostly predictable, and we can keep up with the viral genetic “drift” in our population by introducing the new vaccines each year. 

The gradual genetic drift of viruses is why we can still get sick from the viruses we are exposed to, but because our bodies recognize them as something similar to what we have fought before, by and large, most people’s bodies can manage the change. 

Those are the normal X-Men, the ones that get to be in an ensemble cast and do things as a team because they really only have one thing in their wheelhouse and are predictable. 

And then there is Jean Grey. Who undergoes a radical transformation and becomes something different. So different that she doesn’t even recognize her significant relationships and friends or even her enemies. She is simply a new power on a magnitude that defies the strongest among them. 

This is viral shift.

This is the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, which causes the disease COVID-19. Yes, it is in the same family as the other coronaviruses like the common cold, like Phoenix is still a mutant human. But. None of our bodies have ever seen anything like it before. 

It jumped too fast. We have no immunity. We are only beginning to understand it, at great cost to life and infrastructure and the world economy. Our heath systems around the world are going to need all the help we can give them to be able to keep this from literally decimating the population of our seniors. And that’s based on the data we have right now, which is only three months of data. We don’t know what other populations could be at risk. And that is why we have to make these great sacrifices. Because this is so different.*

Hopefully you’ve seen the idea of needing to flatten the curve, and if you haven’t, it basically means we know that people who are infected and contagious may not be exhibiting symptoms, and because of that, we are being asked to observe social distancing. I’ve heard it described as physical distancing for the good of the society. 

That’s why we haven’t gone to the playground or over to a friends house for a playdate. We don’t want to be the connecting link that spreads the virus to one of the vulnerable among us. 

Sure, maybe if you are reading this, and you catch COVID-19 while it goes around the global population it won’t be that bad for you. But I have eleven family members over the age of sixty, a number of them with additional health risk factors. I don’t want to have a doctor pick which one of them gets to be on a ventilator and which one has to die, because there simply are not enough resources to go around if the entire population gets sick with unrestricted spread. 

This isn’t a sprint. We’re in this together for the long haul and in order to help out our helpers the best, we need to make these sacrifices of being apart. 

But we are not alone. We are in this together. And when we come out on the other side of this, through this pandemic, I’m looking forward to the hugs we will share again.  


*Thankfully, the CDC has considered what to do with an Influenza Pandemic like the one from 1918. Most of the decisions being promoted by the CDC is on their study of the past 4 pandemics over the last hundred years and how to help mitigate the effects of novel viruses. What we are doing now feels and sounds really weird sometimes. But. We closed schools because the science supported that decision. It’s just hard now.

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