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Monster or Machine? A Profile of the Coronavirus at 6 Months

The New York Times – Our “hidden enemy,” in plain sight.”…For at least six months now, the virus has replicated among us. The toll has been devastating. Officially, more than six million people worldwide have been infected so far, and 370,000 have died. (The actual numbers are certainly higher.) The United States, which has seen the largest share of cases and casualties, recently surpassed 100,000 deaths, one-fourth the number of all Americans who died in World War II. Businesses are shuttered — in 10 weeks, some 40 million Americans have lost their jobs — and food banks are overrun. The virus has fueled widespread frustration and exposed our deepest faults: of color, class and privilege, between the deliverers and the delivered to…By March, at least 1,388 variants of the coronavirus had been detected around the world, all functionally identical as far as scientists could tell. Arrayed as an ancestral tree, these lineages reveal where and when the virus spread. For instance, the first confirmed case of Covid-19 in New York was announced on March 1, but an analysis of samples revealed that the virus had begun to circulate in the region weeks earlier. Unlike early cases on the West Coast, which were seeded by people arriving from China, these cases were seeded from Europe, and in turn seeded cases throughout much of the country. The roots can be traced back still further. The first known patient was hospitalized in Wuhan on Dec. 16, 2019, and first felt ill on Dec. 1; the first infection would have occurred still earlier. Sometime before that the virus, or its progenitor, was in a bat — the genome is 96 percent similar to a bat virus. How long ago it made that jump, and acquired the mutations necessary to do so, is unclear. In any case, and contrary to certain conspiracy theories, SARS-CoV-2 was not engineered in a laboratory…”

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