Then the world caved in’: 11 experts describe the day they realized Covid-19 was here to stay

This week marks two pandemic “anniversaries” — the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic on March 11, 2020, and former President Trump declared it a national emergency two days later.

Tragically, there have been more than a half million deaths in the United States and more than 2.6 million globally since then.

To mark these dates, I asked a range of people, from clinicians on the frontlines to virus watchers, vaccine makers, and public health specialists, to share their answers to this question: What was the moment last year when you realized we were in real trouble?

By David Quammen: The “moment last year” when I realized the world was in real trouble occurred about 10 years ago.

I was finishing work on my book “Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic.” I had asked some of the smartest infectious disease scientists I knew these questions: Will there be a Next Big One, a pandemic of infection that sweeps the globe and kills millions of people? If so, what will it look like?

The consensus of what they told me, which I published in the book in 2012, was this: Yes, there will be a Next Big One. It will be caused by a virus new to humans that has emerged from a wild animal. That virus could well be an influenza or a coronavirus; the wild animal could well be a rodent, a primate, or a bat; and the spillover could well occur in or near a “wet market” in some country where wildlife is sold as food amid other food products and where an infected person might easily reach an internationally connected airport. We can’t say when this will happen, but it will happen.

The moment last year when I realized, more immediately, that the world could be in real trouble was on Jan. 13, 2020, when I was reading an email from the disease reporting service ProMED, about the cluster of atypical pneumonias in the city of Wuhan, and I saw for the first time, on the subject line and in the text, the words “novel coronavirus.”

David Quammen is a freelance writer and author of “Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic” (W.W. Norton, 2012).

By Helen Branswell: On the evening of Jan. 24, 2020, I conducted one of the most unsettling interviews of my career.

I was talking with Trevor Bedford, a computational biologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. He had been using genetic sequence data to chart the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that had apparently emerged in China in December 2019. The first case detected in the United States had been reported three days earlier, though the infected man had actually returned to the country on Jan. 15 after traveling to Wuhan, China, where the outbreak is believed to have begun.

People in Bedford’s field were using a rule of thumb to estimate how many cases of what came to be known as Covid-19 were outside of China. This was at a time when tests were just being developed to detect the new infection. Each case detected outside China, they estimated, represented about 500