The New Weapon in the Covid-19 War

The New Weapon in the Covid-19 War

By Michael Lewis

A series(ˈsirēz) of dispatches(dəˈspaCH) from America in the age of Covid-19.

No one who passed the young woman on the street that night gave her so much as a second glance(ɡlans). It was a Saturday evening in the South Beach neighborhood of San(sän) Francisco and she was heading away from the stadium(ˈstādēəm) where the San Francisco Giants(ˈjīənt) were meant to be opening their season and toward the arena(əˈrēnə) where the Golden State Warriors(ˈwôrēər) were meant to be ending theirs.

The young woman carried a small, white Styrofoam(ˈstīrəˌfōm) cooler that looked as if it had made one too many fishing trips(trip). She wore a mask and running shoes. She made this trip almost every night and she might as well have been invisible. And she thought that was funny, because of what she usually had inside her Styrofoam cooler: racks(rak) of tubes(t(y)o͞ob) filled with Covid-19. The buildings in the area(ˈerēə) housed some of the world’s leading(ˈlediNG,ˈlēdiNG) labs studying deadly diseases: Ebola(ēˈbōlə), Zika, MERS, SARS(särz), bubonic(b(y)o͞oˈbänik) plague(plāɡ). They kept it all in refrigerators(rəˈfrijəˌrādər), but sometimes they needed to move it around. “Hang out here long enough,” the young woman said as she walked, “and you realize you don’t have any idea of what people are carrying.”

Her name was Hanna Retallack(re). She was a microbiologist(ˈˌmīkrōˌbīˈäləjəst) and student of Joe DeRisi(də), the virus hunter who, in early March, had turned the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub into what might be the country’s most interesting coronavirus testing lab. Retallack was just 29 but had established herself as a leading pupil(ˈpyo͞opəl) in what I’ve come to think of as the Joe DeRisi School of Badass(ˈbadˌas) Virus Hunters.