Message of the Day: Disease

A World Gone Viral, National Geographic, November 2020 issue


As we write, with the US presidential election eleven days away, the Covid-19 pandemic is about to hit all time highs in infections in the US and is ramping up further around the world, with 42 million infections and 1.1 million deaths in the past nine months and getting worse by the day.

The new November issue of National Geographic Magazine is dedicated to the issue of the pandemic worldwide. It cannot be missed.

The link to the cover article, which links to numerous other articles, is below. It has moving reports and extraordinary photographs from a number of nations worldwide:

“A World Gone Viral”

By Cynthia Gorney, November 2020 issue, Natioana; Geographic Magazine

Photographers in five countries show how COVID-19 became a painful, shared experience around the globe.

original image
From a hospital in La Louvière, Belgium, this image shows a CT scan of the chest area and lungs of a 69-year-old patient with COVID-19.

GLOBAL PANDEMIC. We’ve been reading and hearing these words for more than seven months now. Sometimes the limits of human imagination are a blessing: If we actually possessed the ability to visualize the globe’s people during this crisis—the same grief and fear spread across so many different settings, cultures, languages—we might not be able to endure it.

But these international photographers’ dispatches, gathered in five different countries over 2020’s spring and summer, begin to distill the enormity and variety of the pandemic experience. Cédric Gerbehaye, his native Belgium at one point registering the world’s highest per capita COVID19 death rate, spent weeks documenting overwhelmed Belgian medical and nursing home workers. Nichole Sobecki, an American who has lived for nearly a decade in Nairobi, photographed the hustle and anxiety of her adopted city’s grapple with quarantine.

In Jordan, new resident Moises Saman explored the country’s massive population of refugees as pandemic lockdown and recession added one more hardship to their existence. An Indonesian travel ban kept Jakarta photographer Muhammad Fadli from making the annual Ramadan visit to his parents’ village; he took his cameras into the streets instead. (How the coronavirus outbreak grew from a few cases in China to a global pandemic in less than three months.)

And in the United States, Wayne Lawrence photographed portraits of the pandemic-bereaved: women and men who have lost people they loved. The mourners in Lawrence’s portraits are from Detroit, New Orleans, and the metropolitan area around New York City. Take a minute with them, if you can. They were willing to let themselves be shown, in this extraordinary brutal year, with pain still filling their faces. They deserve to have us try, at least, to see.

CÉDRIC GERBEHAYE dressed as advised by the medical workers around him: face mask, face shield, body suit, double bags over his shoes, double gloves over his hands. The outer gloves were plastic, taped to seal out virus. He learned to hold and work his camera through plastic. In a Brussels nursing home he watched an aged woman look into the eyes of the nurse who had come to test her for COVID-19. “J’ai peur,” the woman said.

The nurse took her hands, leaned in close, and said: I’m scared too. She and her team were testing nearly 150 people on that day alone. When she turned to Gerbehaye afterward, her voice was thick in a way that stays with him still; she sounded broken, tough, grieving, and furious, all at once. “No one else can come close to these people,” she said. “If I don’t do this, who will?”

Gerbehaye is 43, the grandson of Belgian and Dutch survivors of the Second World War. It is not uncommon for him, as a photojournalist, to stand in the presence of armed conflict and death. But as he lingered last spring inside hospitals, eldercare facilities, and corpse-transport vans, Gerbehaye understood that Belgians of his generation were witnessing for the first time, as their grandparents had, their own nation in crisis and afraid.

J’ai peur. Belgium’s pandemic numbers were famous for a few March and April weeks, when the country’s per capita COVID-19 fatality rate looked to be the highest in the world. Were Belgian authorities simply counting more honestly, as some contended, than everyone else? In any case the casualties Gerbehaye saw, as he followed undertakers and hospital staff in Brussels and two smaller cities, were also among the living: women and men at the front, caring for the stricken, improvising, overwhelmed.

Outside a hospital in Mons two nurses sat near him one afternoon, silent, slumped, smoking cigarettes on their break. When one rested her head on the other’s shoulder, Gerbehaye thought of the phrase faire corps, which literally means make a body, join together as one. They reminded him of small animals curling into each other for warmth. I have seen your sisters at clinics in Gaza after bombings, he said to himself; like them you’re part of history, even though you’re too tired to care. He raised his camera. The nurses did not look up.