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2003.03

Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, China. I arrive in Hong Kong 11 days into an “atypical pneumonia” scare. A week later, the syndrome gets an official acronym: SARS.

Face masks appear throughout southern China, especially in planes and airports. It’s interesting to watch how people respond when food is set down on their tray tables: lift food, lift mask, eat, replace mask.

After two weeks in China, I expect trouble re-entering the US, but officials at the Atlanta airport only hand me a flyer and wave me through.

Back in New York, rumors declare Chinatown a center of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. Ridiculous.

No symptoms, no long-term damage.

Elsewhere, the SARS-associated coronavirus does take a toll: by July more than 8,400 people are infected worldwide, with over 800 deaths reported.