“Rita and I are down here in Australia,” Hanks wrote. “We felt a bit tired, like we had colds, and some body aches. Rita had some chills that came and went. Slight fevers too. To play things right, as is needed in the world right now, we were tested for the Coronavirus, and were found to be positive.”
“Found to be positive.”
In other words, Hanks and his wife, both 63, have the novel virus responsible for sickening at least 125,000 people worldwide and causing more than 4,600 deaths.
It is often said that we don’t fully accept reality until it affects us, or someone we know personally. For many, that was true of polio when it was ravaging the globe, and it was true of HIV/AIDS.
While most of us have never met Hanks, so ingrained and indelible are his characters — Forrest Gump, Woody from “Toy Story” and Mr. Rogers — that everyone feels they know him. There’s a reason Hanks has been called an “Everyman.”
So the news about Hanks hit home for millions of people — a wake-up call to the reality of coronavirus, a disease that has continued to spread across the U.S. and the globe.
Hanks’s announcement was just one of the major coronavirus-related events that unfolded over the course of a single hour. Even with the NBA abruptly suspending its season and President Trump’s confusing Oval Office address, many people focused on grappling with the reality of Hanks’s diagnosis. To top it all off, the news came on the same day the World Health Organization upgraded the outbreak to a global pandemic.
By early Thursday, the actor was still a top trending term on Twitter, his calm announcement largely overshadowing Trump’s major address.
For many, Hanks’s words did more to reassure them than any number of statements from public officials.
“The Tom Hanks statement will do more to calm people about coronavirus than any part of Trump’s medicated and self-congratulatory reading of a teleprompter,” tweeted comedian John Fugelsang.
Hanks sent two messages with his understated post, both of which Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases, has been trying to drive home for weeks.
First: Anyone can get it. If a big celebrity and his wife are vulnerable, so are the rest of us.
“Tom Hanks has Coronavirus,” tweeted YouTuber Jack Pattillo. “I think we are done as a species.”
And the other was that the outcome of infection is inherently uncertain. After all, it’s called a “novel” virus because it’s novel. Really all anyone can do is go about the business of seeking proper medical attention and hoping for the best.
“Well, now. What to do next?” Hanks wrote after breaking the news. “The Medical Officials have protocols that must be followed. We Hanks’ will be tested, observed, and isolated for as long as public health and safety requires. Not much more to it than a one-day-at-a-time approach, no? We’ll keep the world posted and updated.”
Overnight, Hanks became a reference point for the raging discussion of America’s readiness.
On social media, the widespread concern of “if he can get it, I can get it” soon morphed into serious questions about coronavirus preparedness in the United States. Even though Trump has insisted tests for the virus are readily available for anyone who needs one, people nationwide have reported shortages in kits and long wait times for results.
Several people pointed out that Hanks and Wilson’s celebrity status and the fact that they are currently out of the country probably influenced their swift diagnoses. The couple have already been placed in isolation at Gold Coast University Hospital in Queensland and the Sydney Opera House is reportedly attempting to trace more than 200 people who may have come into contact with the pair.
At least one person highlighted the difference between the Hollywood A-listers and journalist Andy Carvin, who detailed his experience trying to get treatment for coronavirus symptoms in Maryland in a lengthy Twitter thread Wednesday. Carvin’s account took up more than 30 tweets and he said he still hasn’t received his test results after days of waiting.
“Please stay strong,” tweeted actor Bradley Whitford.
Others were slightly more dramatic.
“I swear to God, I will suck the coronavirus out of Tom Hanks’ arm if I have to!” tweeted former “Bachelorette” contestant Michael Garofola. “Please no!”
But out of all the well-wishers, it was Hanks himself who appeared to know exactly what a friend should say to a friend in the middle of a pandemic.
“Take care of yourselves!” he wrote at the end of his announcement.