We check the death tally each morning like the weather report, the mind doing everything possible to comprehend numbers that started in the tens, followed by hundreds, and now we’re reaching thousands. Rhode Island is hunting down New Yorkers, sending the National Guard to conduct door-to-door searches. The president spent the afternoon loudly mulling over a quarantine of New York City.

Each headline is more disorienting than the last, and uncertainty is breeding baroque conspiracies. Some say the virus is a political hoax invented by the Democrats and Chinese. They say the director of the National Institute of Health leads a shadowy cabal determined to overthrow the president. Each time he touches his forehead on national television, he’s communing with satanic energies. Strange how the knee-jerk anti-authoritarianism of the conspiracy theorist leads to blind faith in imaginary forces: the Illuminati, a wicked godhead.