I have spent my whole life preparing for COVID-19. Here is what I have learned.

Between modern virology and the history of the Black Plague, I have some thoughts to offer from a life spent preparing for “the big” pandemic.

John Skylar, PhD
8 min readMar 23, 2020


“Nothing in our lives has prepared us for this moment,” a leader at my job said yesterday on a staff call. For most people, that’s true.

I used to get sick a lot when I was a kid, so I spent a lot of time in doctor’s offices. I guess that’s where my interest in disease started; I was always curious and there’s not much else to learn about in doctor’s offices.

I got my first job in a lab — basically, doing DNA testing — when I was 16. I’ve been a biologist ever since. In undergrad, alongside my biology major, I did a thesis on public health responses to the Black Plague in 1348.

As a PhD student in biomedical sciences, my thesis — “A Paramyxovirus Strategy for Dismantling RIG-I Signaling” — was born out of my study of a key emerging pathogen, Nipah virus, which has several similarities to the SARS-CoV-2 pathogen that causes COVID-19.

Me, speaking at an international congress about the deadly emerging Nipah virus in 2012.

Since my PhD, I have worked in the pharmaceutical industry across the entirety of the product lifecycle, from development to launch, as a communications and strategy consultant.

The point of that résumé is that I have spent essentially my entire life preparing for the moment that we are currently in. There has never been a time when I have been more able to help people who, understandably, do not feel prepared for this moment.

So that’s what I’m going to do.

Understanding Epidemics

Epidemics are not the usual crisis. I remember 9/11, 3/11, Katrina, the Indian Ocean Tsunami, and many other disasters that have happened in my time. Even the global financial crisis of 2008. None of these are similar to the epidemics that snowball into a pandemic.

Most crises are a fast burn. Things escalate quickly when the underlying conditions are just right to let something catastrophic or disruptive happen. Epidemics are not like that. There are no clouds of smoke and there is no giant storm or great…



John Skylar, PhD

Virologist, author, damn fool. Also found at www.johnskylar.com and www.betterworlds.org. Opinions my own, impressions yours.