The Ghost In The Corona

How we awoke civilization’s greatest threat


When I was a kid I was afraid of ghosts. I was particularly afraid of where I thought they they lived in a woody area behind our ranch house, a place that seemed bathed in the eternal twilight of shade and shadow.

I was convinced these ghosts might be lurking in the usual dangerous areas like in my closet, behind the creaky old door, in the basement, but especially under my bed.

A particular ghost story from my childhood, told by an elder visiting cousin, was about a blind old woman and her little dog. It is too ghastly to tell, but suffice to say something kept licking her hand at night yet her dog was a goner some weeks back.

I think the thing that scared me most about this story is that it just ended, and you never found out what it was. We were just left hanging, imagining and afraid.

Now we are being haunted for real.

Like a ghost it is invisible, like a poltergeist it seems to harbor a grudge, and like a Navajo Skinwalker it moves about unseen, taking over the bodies of its victims.

Our lead character in this story is our new coronavirus. What was once thought of as a respiratory virus that makes us cough and affects the lungs has shape-shifted into a systemic infection that can kill or cause brain damage, kidney failure, strokes and other blood clotting diseases, as this report in CNN Health (1) explained last week.

Because it is so new we are not even sure if infected people can completely recover, and rid the virus their bodies. In ghost terms COVID-19 could be a long-term possession, possibly even a permanent one.

Every time we seem to know something solid about this dangerous little character it jumps out of the closet and sends us running. This week 63 sailors were quarantined with COVID-19 in Ushuaia, Argentina. They had all been in preventative quarantine before they were allowed to sail for 14 days and tested negative repeatedly.

After 35 days at sea with no other contact, 57 tested positive and two have been hospitalized. According to this report in the Independent Newspaper (2) the head of the hospital’s infectious disease unit in Ushuaia, Leandro Ballatore, said that the “case escapes all description in publications, because an incubation period this long has not been described anywhere”.

So 14 days of quarantine may not be enough. Or the tests beforehand were not good enough, or done well enough, or they had some supplies on the boat that carried the ghost on board.

I know people who have had the virus who tested negative but then got very sick and tested positive, so it may not be that great a mystery. But the story underlines the virus’ ability to insinuate itself into our bodies no matter what precautions we take.

When I was a kid I was lucky enough to go to summer camp. This break from all things school for a farm boy like me was a yearly highlight. It was a place with girls and campfires and pillow fights and ghost stories. It was a place that a kid like me could reinvent himself, maybe even be a bit cool, but this summer a lot of kids, especially in the US, are not going.

Kanauk Camp in Missouri had a COVID-19 plan, though, and opened up in June for younger teenagers. An editorial in the Washington Post this week (3) explains that the camp’s “precautions included documented health screenings; daily temperature checks; highly qualified doctors and nurses; hand sanitizer in all buildings; limited access to camp grounds for outsiders; elaborate quarantine protocols; rigorous cleaning; and stringent limits on touching — even a ban on campers exchanging high-fives”.

Despite these incredible precautions our corona ghost wasn’t going to miss it’s cue. Disaster ensued.

More than eighty campers and staff tested positive for COVID-19 in less than three weeks. The camp has been shut down. They all presumably went home, where some might infect their parents or grandparents.

I can’t imagine a scarier ghost story.

At the moment we know some people spread COVID-19 a lot through studies like the one published this week in US Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s journal Emerging Infectious Diseases (4). A woman returning to China from the USA at the end of March also did everything right. She went straight home where she lived alone after traveling and isolated herself for 14 days. She had no symptoms at all and had two negative tests on March 30th and April 2nd.

But our hitchhiking ghost came with her nevertheless and infected 71 people. The researchers tracked her infection to a brief time spent in the lift of her building when she returned home, which infected her downstairs neighbor.

Friends of mine have come down with this virus and their housemates have all continually tested negative, so some people are definitely more likely to pass it along than others. But who are they? No one knows. Why are they not sick? No one really knows but like demonic possession, it seems to prefer some people over others.

This thing is devious and successful. It hides well, it travels well, and in its extreme form is very hard to treat. That is precisely why we have such a problem, explained Dr. Anthony Fauci at a June press event. “Not to be hyperbolic about it — it really is the perfect storm and [an] infectious disease and public health person’s worst nightmare. It’s a spectacularly transmissible virus. The efficiency with which this transmits is really striking,” He should know, he is the director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

This might make us think that something so well designed could not possibly have come from nature, but science says we would be wrong. Scripps Institute explained in a great study (5) way back in March that the virus is not man-made for some very good reasons.

“By comparing the available genome sequence data for known coronavirus strains, we can firmly determine that SARS-CoV-2 originated through natural processes,” said Kristian Andersen, PhD, an associate professor of immunology and microbiology at Scripps Research and corresponding author on the paper.

So this haunting is real, people are dying, and although we know a lot about how to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 by wearing masks, social distancing and other actions, there is not a lot of discussion about why this perfect ghost of a virus decided to go full-on Exorcist on us.

Strangely enough, one answer may lie within the scientific literature in form of an article published by the National Institute of Health’s National Laboratory of Medicine Journal a few weeks ago (6).

In the article, titled Coronavirus outbreak is a symptom of Gaia’s sickness, author Roberto Cazzolla Gatti explains that COVID-19’s “expanding virulence should not be the scariest issue related to this pathogen. COVID-19 is evidently a symptom of how sick of us is Gaia, our planet. No need to invoke the existence of contended superorganisms here, neither to argue in favour of teleological revenge. What I fear is that the systematic and long-term impacts we are having on our Earth is, and will continue to, challenging our modern lifestyle, just as dangerous prolonged habits impair a body’s health.”

I had to look up teleological. It means supernatural. He says we don’t need ghosts to explain this. The problem is us, using up and destroying our planet. The virus is an illustration of how terribly sick our mother earth is of us and our polluting, rapacious ways. In essence, Gatti explains, “we are receiving warning messages from Gaia, some of the strongest and clearest of all our evolutionary time. If we ignore them, we can blame only ourselves.”

In no uncertain terms he goes on to say that “human activities and well-being is strongly dependent on the health of the global environment.”

It echoes strongly from Navajo and Hopi knowledge outlined in an excellent radio discussion on National Public Radio (6) that interviewed Shannon Francis, a member of the Hopi Tribe and Navajo Nation. “Mother Earth is getting a break from humans – from mining, development, digging her up, you know, her soil, and so this is sort of a break for her.”

I feel that childhood ghost fear come back sometimes as I leave the grocery store in these Covid times, aware that I have probably bumped into the virus. It is the very real feeling that something is out there, lingering, scary and unseen, waiting to pounce upon the unwary from under the bed, the flooded basement or from that dark patch of forest.

Unlike a real ghost we know what COVID-19 is and roughly where it has come from, but this haunting doesn’t look like it is going away any time soon unless we start changing our ways.

It may not be be too late.

Keep safe Earthlings.

Written by Jeffrey Barbee

Edited by Kerry Nash

First published on July 18th, 2020 on Jeffrey Barbee’s Patreon blog.

(1) How coronavirus affects the entire body CNN Health

(2) Coronavirus: Fishermen test positive despite spending 35 days at sea and testing negative before they left -The Independent

(3) This summer camp took extraordinary covid-19 precautions. It still failed. WP

(4) Large SARS-CoV-2 Outbreak Caused by Asymptomatic Traveler, China

(5) The COVID-19 coronavirus epidemic has a natural origin, Scripps.

(6) What Hopi And Navajo Teachings Tell Us About Pandemics NPR