Scott Z. Burns, the screenwriter for Steven Soderbergh’s prescient 2011 thriller “Contagion,” has found a new protagonist: the coronavirus itself. In an “infect and tell” open letter to the United States to be published Saturday in Graydon Carter’s Air Mail, Burns imagines COVID-19’s first-person account of the pandemic that has shut down much of the world economy.
“To go back to the beginning, I was hanging out in a seafood market in Wuhan, China, late last year with this bat I knew when I decided it was time to get out and see the world,” Burns’ version of the virus writes. “Maybe there was a pangolin involved, maybe not. (I am not one to infect and tell.) But when I met my first human being, I knew I had found my dream home … Now I understand what Herpes was talking about all these years — you guys are everything an aspiring virus could hope for.”
Burns’ COVID-19 offers plenty of digs at the U.S. — “you Americans decided to stick with drive-thru burgers and almost no testing at all” — and at Republican leaders in particular. “Apparently you have more blindfolds for your Republican Party than N95 masks for your first responders anyway,” he writes.
The piece also rips the slow pandemic response of President Donald Trump, whom Burns’ virus dubs “the guy with the orange face — Captain Handshake,” and suggests a reason for the high viewership for the White House pandemic briefings: “Comedy plays well during dark times, and Captain Handshake is the kind of old-timey circus clown that kills — particularly against that slightly older demographic.”
Burns’ virus ominously notes that Trump is “over 70, obese, and have bone spurs — I could drown you in your own mucus in a couple of days.”
The piece also suggests that the president should own the pandemic and its aftermath. “I really think Governor Cuomo ought to consider calling this the ‘Trump Pandemic’ for all of his hard work on my behalf,” Burns’ COVID-19 writes. “From what I hear, he loves putting his name on things.”
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