Everyone else is talking about it, so I can talk about it, too!
It seems like with all this virus hysteria, every time I step outside it's more and more like WWII out there. Keep your distance, don't talk to strangers, put on your gas masks, and keep your kids at home!
But I'm not here to say "everyone is overreacting" or "THE WORLD IS GOING TO END!!!" Instead, I'm here to make some notes on how this is all working out, so I can use it in a future story. :D
You remember a while back, I was wondering about an American Plague and how that would have worked. Well, look at this. A fast-spreading, high-mortality illness in America. I know it's not the same, but it tells me a lot about how a real epidemic might cause society to change in predictable but maybe not very pleasant ways.
1. News of the illness spread quickly.
Even in times before the internet, things like newspapers and telegrams would have carried word of widespread illnesses, and before that, travelers or traders would carry not only news of the illness, but the illness itself. The old saying about how bad news travels faster than good news is unfortunately true, but this is owing a trick of human psychology. We more readily remember negative or threatening news because it provokes emotional reactions - the more emotional a memory is, the easier it is to file into long-term memory.
2. Reactions changed slowly.
The people that scoffed at the original news are still scoffing now, complaining about social restrictions, public businesses closing their doors, and states of emergency that mean their kids aren't allowed to go to school. It's hard on everyone, but there's a section of the population that are determined to act as though this is "no big deal."
3. Resource hoarding became a problem.
This is actually a phenomenon common to humans in most situations, even the calm ones. When a person feels there's a threat to a certain resource, even one that costs them nothing, the reaction of a certain portion of the population will be to use or possess as much of that resource as they can before it runs out. And because we're social creatures, once we see one person doing that, the perceived level of threat to that resource skyrockets, triggering more and more people to hoard or use the resource until it's gone and can do no one any good at all.
I'm keeping these notes for future use, but you guys are more than welcome to use them, or add your own in the comments below!