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February 2022

How Not to Name a Virus

Donald and Anthony were juniors at Duke University. They met freshman year and had been best friends ever since. Donald was an economics major and the President of the United Seniors Association, a group dedicated to helping Durham’s elderly population. Anthony was the director of the Nixon Investigative Huddle, a group that meets twice a week to study Duke Law’s only Presidential graduate.

One day, Donald was eating lunch with his friend Han. Han and Donald were unlikely friends, as Donald didn’t really like many of the new people he met since moving from New York to Durham, but he and Han hit it off. They had a nice chat about Donald’s new campaign to Minimize Abhorrent Grading Anomalies, which Han said he would happily support (Donald was obviously against cheating in every capacity).

While Donald and Han were having a nice meal at Tandoor, Anthony was partying hard. Anthony wasn’t really a partier, he was much more of a workhorse. He would frequently be seen at what he dubbed the Meeting, Studying, Noiseless, Books Club (it was really just Perkins), where he would sit and study with his Friends Lawrence, Rachel, and Joe. This afternoon, however, he was partying, drinking Corona with his buddies.

The next day, Han and Anthony had a problem. They were both sick. Han, however, didn’t realize he was sick for a couple of days and went out, carrying on with his life. Anthony, being the studious bio major pre-med he was, quickly realized he was sick and stayed in bed, rather than going to class. The sickness quickly spread around the school and Donald, ever the marketer, wanted to do his friend a favor. He thought he’d make Han famous by naming the unusual sickness after him. Donald started calling the virus the WU-Han virus, because Donald was pretty sure that Han first got sick at their lunch.

This made Anthony very unhappy. Anthony hadn’t eaten at WU when he got sick. He simply got sick from drinking his Corona. He went around telling everybody the virus was from Corona. He dubbed it the Coronavirus.

The war over the name of the virus quickly spread over the campus. Friend groups split up and new ones formed. The people who called it WU-Han virus quickly dubbed themselves conservatives, for wanting to stick to the original name, while the Coronavirus folks were branded as liberals, for attaching themselves to the de novo name of the day.

Many scathing Chronicle op-eds were written in the war over the name of the virus. A man named Wolf tried to calm everyone down, giving equal wait to both names, but this just infuriated everyone. Donald called Wolf’s opinion piece, which was called the Coronavirus Naming Nuance (the now famous op-ed had been shortened in the history books to CNN), fake news, while Anthony’s supporters claimed that Wolf was spreading dangerous lies that threatened the very institutions that Duke holds dear.

The conflict was heating up, and all the while the student body was suffering from the sickness (whatever you want to call it) that raged throughout the school. At the end of their junior year, Donald and Anthony were no longer on speaking terms. It was rumored that Donald tried to get Anthony fired, even though the President of the USA doesn’t have the power to fire the director of the NIH. In short, this was a stupid conflict. Everyone should have agreed that the actual sickness was worse than the debate of what to name the virus. They should have acknowledged that wherever the virus came from, it was a tragedy that affected human lives and many students at Duke.

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