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The mysterious virus was just another headline … until it wasn’t

It’s been an entire year since the day everything changed on March 11, 2020

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Few people walk at the Naviglio Grande canal, one of the favorite spots for night life in Milan, Italy, Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Few people walk at the Naviglio Grande canal, one of the favorite spots for night life in Milan, Italy, on Tuesday, March 10, 2020. One year after the pandemic hit, Herb Scribner looks back on the day everything changed.

Antonio Calanni, Associated Press

My experience with the coronavirus started with Drudge Report.

Sometimes, as a trending writer, I’ll scan the news aggregation site for story ideas. One day, a story popped up about a mysterious virus causing fear in China. It seemed interesting enough, so I wrote an article about how there was concern the unknown norovirus was similar to MERS or SARS (though it wasn’t). The article seemed to draw some readers, so I followed the beat. I wrote article after article about the virus — which had been called the novel coronavirus, the CoronaVirus, the coronavirus, COVID, COVID-19, the norovirus and so many more names in that short time.

Each headline I wrote was just another story. A piece of narrative as the virus moved through Asia and Europe. It came to the United States. And yet my personal life still felt normal.

I’ve been looking over my articles from last year, one year after I’ve written them. The warning signs were all there. We should have seen this coming. The virus was making its way across the world.

And yet here we are — one year later — with millions dead, infected and impacted.

The coronavirus took over the world. And we’re still not done with it yet. Vaccines are rolling out, which is great for our world. More people have received the COVID-19 vaccinethan people who were infected with the coronavirus. Vaccinated people now have tips on how to interact again.

Normalcy is right around the corner.

But the fight isn’t over.

One year later.


I was in Walmart when I knew the coronavirus pandemic was going to be a bigger deal than anyone had expected. My girlfriend wanted to shop at Walmart for an emergency kit. Snacks, food, blankets — the necessities in case anything crazy went down. I advised her to get water. (That was my one contribution.)

As we left the store, the greeter at the doors looked at our items and told us that “everyone” was getting stuff tonight. Everyone was preparing for something. She didn’t name the coronavirus. She didn’t say COVID-19. But she said it was “something” that forced everyone to shop at that Walmart on that night.

Something had started.

One year later.

Jeff Duke loads items into the trunk of his car in the Costco parking lot in Murray on Thursday, March 12, 2020. Many shoppers were stocking up on items as the coronavirus spreads.

Jeff Duke loads items into the trunk of his car in the Costco parking lot in Murray on Thursday, March 12, 2020. Many shoppers were stocking up on items as the coronavirus spreads.

Ivy Ceballo, Deseret News


The coronavirus had been making its way to the United States. But it was still a thought in the back of the mind. Something to consider — but not something we thought would upend our lives. During the last week of February, I signed up to participate in a seven-film, 15-hour marathon of Pixar films at the Megaplex Theatres.

Before heading out for it, my editor asked me if I was afraid of catching the coronavirus. He said sitting in a theater with people for that long was a risky idea. I said I felt safe. The virus hadn’t really made a huge impact on our cultural mindset yet, so I was much more risky than I should have been.

Megaplex Theatres hosted a Pixar movie marathon before the pandemic.

Herb Scribner, Deseret News

I went to the theater and had an absolute blast. An entire Saturday dedicated to Pixar films and popcorn inside a packed theater. I had done movie marathons before, so it was fun to enjoy the experience again.

One person coughed during the marathon. I remember turning around to see who it was. It was the first time I had ever been concerned about someone else’s cough. It was foreshadowing in a way of what was to come.

I just didn’t know it yet.

One year later.


The first weekend of March might have been another sign of the pandemic. I visited Dallas to meet most of my girlfriend’s family. I joked with my cousin in a text before leaving that I would try not to bring COVID-19 back with me. When we went to Dallas, we didn’t wear masks. We didn’t carry hand sanitizer. We traveled as anyone would travel back in the “Before Times.”

There were signs of the pandemic throughout the trip. South by Southwest was canceled. National headlines about New York and international headlines about Italy made every news feed and newspaper out there. It was like a coming storm. You could see the clouds on the horizon. You knew it would rain. You just couldn’t quite comprehend that a tornado would come with it. Or an earthquake, if you live in Utah.

A line of passengers wait to board a flight to Dallas from Salt Lake City, Utah, in March 2020.

Passengers wait to board a flight to Dallas from Salt Lake City in March 2020.

Herb Scribner, Deseret News

Before the trip back home to Salt Lake City from Dallas, my girlfriend’s mother and father handed us a pack of masks. They said we should wear them. We laughed at the idea. But something inside of me felt like the masks were the solution — protection against the virus. So we took the masks. I’ve now used all of them (I have bought close to 10 other masks that I’ve used more frequently).

One year later.


Then came March 11 — the day that changed everything. The day Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson tested positive for the now officially named COVID-19. The day the Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder game was canceled because of the virus. The day former President Donald Trump issued a travel ban from Europe.

Like so many other journalists, I was so fixated on the big news of the day — the Harvey Weinstein scandal (he was sentenced to 23 years in prison for rape and sexual assault on that day). His court case hadn’t been a topic I was asked to cover before. But the breaking news on March 11 required me to sit down and follow the news.

I remember taking a call from my editor, who was out sick with strep throat. “Well, I’ll see you tomorrow,” he told me.

“Well, you never know. This coronavirus might go crazy and we might not see each other for six months.”

One year later.


We were sitting at dinner. Sandwiches were half eaten. The night winding down. The last night of normal, really. We joked at the waitress that our debit card might have coronavirus on it. Comedy brought us light in the darkness. We were trying to have a normal night.

Then the phones buzzed. NBA season suspended. Travel ban. Hanks.

We held it together for the rest of the dinner. We slid into the car and drove to get gas. We wondered who else was thinking about the virus. Had anyone else seen the updates? Did anyone else know about the COVID-19 pandemic? Who else knew what we knew? Probably everyone, but definitely not everyone.

It felt like a monster was attacking New York City. I feared something as big as Godzilla or the creature from “Cloverfield” was taking on the Empire State Building and would soon sprawl its way to Salt Lake City. It felt like the end of normality — the end of the world as we knew it.

Everything was about to change.

A photo from Smith’s Food and Drug Store in Herriman, Utah, on March 12, 2020.

People shop in a Smith’s Food and Drug Store in Herriman on March 12, 2020.

Herb Scribner, Deseret News

We drove to a gas station. There was a man at the register who told my girlfriend to “save your kisses for him,” pointing at me. We said we were freaking out about the pandemic. He said, “Oh, the coronavirus stuff? That’s the false news. No, fake news!” It was a bit of comedy on a dreadful night. But it was a moment that said everything we need to know about this pandemic.

Some believed. Some saw it coming. Others didn’t see it coming. Others don’t believe.

Millions dead. Thousands infected. Lives changed. Lives lost.

I can still remember that night. I still remember the shades of the lights at the restaurant. I’ll always remember the face of the gas station worker. The tone of his voice, the way he smiled, the way he joked. I’ll always remember the phone call with my boss.

But I knew I’ll soon visit the restaurant again once it’s safe. I will get gas without fear of catching COVID-19. I will sit down for a meeting with my boss in person. Eventually. One day.

One year later.