In a Parallel Universe, Physical Contact Kills the Virus

The disease thrives in isolated individuals. “Social clustering” is advised. Conga lines form at the grocery store. The cashier licks your credit card.

It started cropping up in solo hikers, cross-country truck drivers, and bush pilots. Out of nowhere, they began to fall ill and die. The bizarre phenomenon slowly swept the globe, and began to make front-page news day after day. No country on Earth was spared. Within weeks, researchers discovered that sustained isolation from other people was the sole common denominator amongst the victims.

One month after the discovery of this mystifying malady, President Trump assembled a pandemic task force of the nation’s top infectious disease experts. The health professionals, led by Dr. Anthony Fauci, delivered a live address to a nation gripped by fear of this enigmatic illness. Taking the lectern, Dr. Fauci greeted the assembled reporters and television viewers, and said:

“This illness appears most frequently in individuals who are socially isolated. Those who get sick tend to fair better when they’re in close contact with others. Because of this, our task force is recommending that every American adopt strict social clustering guidelines. We ask that you maintain very close proximity to others, and try to stay within six feet of friends, family, and, if necessary, strangers, at all times. The closer you can get, the better.”

Within days of the task force briefing, daily life began to change drastically in every facet. Employers mandated that all cubicles and private offices be cleared out and abandoned. Conference rooms became the new place of work — everyone crammed in and set up their monitors wherever they could find an outlet and a place to sit. Families began moving all of their beds into one common room. Relatives that lived by themselves, even curmudgeonly uncles, were promptly asked to move in.

Hospital staff encouraged visitors to socialize with as many patients as possible, and guests were enjoined to hold hands with the sick. Physical contact, the doctors insisted, hastened a recovery. Commuters feared driving to work alone, and nearly everyone elected to carpool or otherwise rode public transportation. State and local authorities recommended spending time with a different group of friends every evening — and a liberal interpretation of the term “friend” was encouraged. One health official commented, “Invite everyone and their mother to your house for dinner. I’m not being hyperbolic.” Gatherings of one hundred people or more were dubbed “Supersavior events.” Spring breakers and avid partygoers were hailed as heroes.

As time went on, despite measures taken by the public, the perplexing illness showed no signs of subsiding. Fearing even greater casualties, the pandemic task force doubled down on their public health recommendations. Dr. Fauci again took the lectern at a televised briefing, and addressed the nation. This time, he was surrounded by journalists laying hands on him. Under any other context, this appeared to be a group prayer. Speaking from the middle of the cluster, he said:

“As this disease continues to spread unabated, we are going to recommend that more strict measures be taken. We advise aggressive social clustering with as much physical touch as possible. The spread of germs is crucial.”

Within a week, the concept of personal space had been entirely expunged from the collective lexicon. Colleagues worked shoulder to shoulder. Commuters on the bus were commonly seen holding hands. A pair of strangers in line at the grocery store shared a kiss. Occupants of nursing homes spent every waking moment playing musical chairs. Conga lines were quite common. The game Twister saw a five hundred percent increase in online orders. Music festivals and theme parks were packed to the brim, and the Tokyo Olympics became the most widely attended sporting event in modern history.

Even the most stubborn recluses rejoined society for fear of falling ill. Tupac Shakur stunned the world when he emerged from hiding.

Airline companies mandated handshake policies. When flight attendants handed beverages to passengers, they always took a “courtesy sip” first. It was considered polite for waiters at restaurants to spit and cough on meals, and a well-timed sneeze was applauded by all.

One man, exasperated from months of spit-swapping and ceaseless socializing, commented, “I can’t wait for life to return to normal. I just want to go home and watch Netflix by myself.”

Living and working in Washington, DC

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