By Marianna Brady
BBC News, Washington
The pandemic is the greatest global story in generations, but a year ago when the borders closed we didn’t know how it would play out. We asked readers to share and talk about their first text messages about the virus.
In March last year, the US watched the virus spread around the world.
Within weeks of the first registered case in the US, the World Health Organization had declared a pandemic, the borders were closed and millions lost their jobs.
Five people look back on the first time “coronavirus” appeared in their text messages – and on what they wanted back then.
JANUARY 24: ‘And suddenly my senior year was wiped out’
As January ended, the country was embroiled in its own political drama – the democratic primaries. And Austin Wu, then a senior at the University of Iowa, was right in the thick of it.
In his spare time, he knocked on the door for Bernie Sanders and enjoyed Friday beer with friends at the local bar. Like most Iowans during the caucus – which determines who runs for president in each party – politicians frequented campus every day To bring students to justice to support their politicians.
Just three days after the US announced its first case of the virus, Austin would see Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign for Bernie Sanders.
“She was speaking in a packed music hall with 600 students,” he said, admitting that it seemed strange to look back on the event, now knowing that the virus was already in the country.
Image rightsAustin WuImage descriptionAustin snapped a photo of the Democrats’ campaign for Bernie Sanders in late January 2020.
In the same text exchange, his mother informed him that the Chinese New Year event was postponed due to the coronavirus – which she spelled out as two words.
Austin, whose father is Chinese and mother Korean, grew up in Iowa and sometimes attended Asian cultural events with his parents.
Many international students on his campus were going home over the winter vacation and had just come back from China, and stories of the virus had reached his campus.
“The people who were directly connected to China were a month and a half off the curve,” he said, referring to the decision to postpone the Chinese New Year event.
Image rightsAustin WuImage descriptionAustin and his parents at graduation
A week later, on January 31, Trump declared a ban on travelers entering and leaving China.
In the early days of the pandemic, he recalls hitting people on Twitter – including conservative activist Charlie Kirk – who called the virus the Wuhan flu.
But Austin said he still had no idea how the pandemic would change around the world.
“I don’t think I understood the true extent of the virus until the first universities on the east coast closed in early March and my senior year was wiped out. I had to move back in with my parents.”
FEBRUARY 29: ‘We tried to get you out of there’
The first death from coronavirus was recorded in the US on February 29, the same day Carmen Gray received a call from her mother’s nursing home.
Two cases of the virus had been recorded at the LifeCare nursing home near Seattle, Washington – the facility where her mother lived.
“I went there every day. But on February 29, I got a call from them telling me I couldn’t come to visit because a resident and employee tested positive for coronavirus.”
She texted her sister Bridget with the news.
A few days later, her mother also tested positive.
Image rightsGetty ImagesImage descriptionCarmen and her sister Bridget stood in front of their mother’s window in May 2020
“We were terrified. We continued to visit each other outside the window every day.”
Carmen, exposed to the virus, desperately called health departments and hospitals to find out what to do – but no one had an answer. At that time, only 70 cases of coronavirus have been recorded in the country.
“We couldn’t get any help – there were no public tests at the time. I couldn’t get anyone to tell me what to do or where to go.”
Her mother got sick but eventually recovered to be diagnosed a second time later that year.
“She started talking to the dead and she still has brain fog,” said Carmen, who eventually moved her mother from the nursing home to a new facility.
MARCH 6: ‘Little did I know my mother would die 24 days later’
Angie Kociolek was preparing to leave the country for the first time in seven years when her friend texted her about a run. She jokingly joked that she was on her way to Mexico, hoping not to catch the virus.
The 50-year-old is an avid nature lover who lives in Montana. He spent the week kayaking with a tour group in Mexico before flying back to the United States on March 15.
Coronavirus dominated many conversations on her trip, but Angie said she was more relaxed than most other travelers.
When she got home she was at the height of her great journey.
Image rightsAngieImage descriptionAngie on a kayak tour in Mexico, March 2020
Two days later, her sisters called to tell her that someone at her mother’s nursing home in New Jersey had tested positive for coronavirus.
“It turned out to be my mother’s roommate. A few days later, my mother tested positive,” Angie said.
Her mother was alone at the age of 93. And then it got worse.
When the first cases of the virus began to appear in the nursing home, the state decided to evacuate 78 elderly residents to a facility 45 minutes away.
Angie’s mother, Annette, was strapped to a stretcher and carted away by people in Hazmat suits.
A viewer told the US media that “people have been loaded like cattle”.
“It was horrible. If I close my eyes, I can still see it today.”
Angie’s sisters, who lived twenty minutes away, were just as helpless as they were on the other side of the country.
“We never got the chance to leave my mother where she was,” said Angie.
“We tried desperately to figure out the treatment plan, but there wasn’t one.”
“And within five days of moving, she died on my sister’s birthday,” said Angie.
“When I sent this text on March 6th,” Angie reflected, “I hardly knew that my mother would get Covid-19 and die only 24 days later.”
MARCH 10: ‘At that moment I knew things were going to be real’
Every year in March, Tatiana McArthur travels to England to visit her husband’s family, and she did so in 2020.
Despite several already banned European countries, the 33-year-old traveled to Great Britain.
Everything was normal at first, she said. Great Britain wasn’t locked until March 23rd. At this point she was already back in the USA.
Image rightsTatiana McArthurImage descriptionTatiana and her husband in the UK in March 2020
But her colleagues back home in Wisconsin panicked when the virus was classified as a pandemic by the World Health Organization on March 11.
“I came back from dinner one evening and had several messages and emails from my manager at home,” which emerged as the first mention of the virus in their texts.
“She told me that when I returned I would not be allowed into the office and would have to be quarantined.”
On March 12, President Trump stopped the trip from Europe.
Although the ban did not initially cover Britain, Tatiana and her husband were trapped in the historic hour-long lines at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. People were baffled by pictures shared on the airport’s social media full of panicked travelers trying to get back into the country after it closed.
“It was one of those Disney World lines where they don’t show you the whole thing, but it winds around corners,” she said.
There were signs warning travelers to stay socially aloof, but they were crammed “shoulder to shoulder” due to the unexpected influx of travelers.
“We could hear people coughing. People stood in line for over five hours just to get through customs,” she said.
“I naively thought it turned out better than it did, but in that moment I knew things were going to be real.”
MARCH 23: ‘We made decisions in the blind’
Reverend Marshall Hatch says his first conversation about coronavirus wasn’t in the form of text because he and his 73-year-old sister Rhoda didn’t write often. But he remembers the call like yesterday.
It was one of the last times he spoke to Rhoda.
After attending a friend’s funeral with guests outside of town, Rhoda’s asthma began to work on March 16.
Her doctor scheduled a coronavirus test for her.
Then she called her brother to tell him she would have one the following week – this is the call Marshall remembers so vividly.
But Rhoda’s asthma worsened overnight, and on March 25, Marshall drove her to the emergency room.
Rhoda had dealt with asthma attacks all her life, but this one felt different.
“Rhoda said it didn’t feel like a normal asthma attack – it felt different and she was more tired,” Marshall said.
A few days later, the doctor called Marshall asking for permission to intubate Rhoda.
Image rightsSubmitted photoImage descriptionReverend Marshall Hatch with his sister Rhoda
“This week we made decisions in the blind,” said Marshall.
He believes he would have made better decisions about her care if he had known more about the virus, and believes the doctors would have done too.
He asked the hospital to let him visit her one last time.
They finally agreed that technically she was still an asthma patient and not on the Covid ward. She eventually tested positive for Covid and died on April 4th.
When did you first say “coronavirus”?
The pandemic hit about a year ago. When did the term coronavirus (Corona or Covid) first appear in your text conversations? Send us the exchange.
What do you remember from that time?