Museum of America in the Pandemic Year, 2020

Pick a SPECIFIC date to explore

Friday, January 10

Jan 3: the Chinese government officially notifies the U.S. government of the the outbreak. The Wuhan Public Security Bureau summons Li Wenliang, an opthamologist, to their offices, ordering him to sign a letter admitting that he had been spreading “false rumors” about the novel coronavirus and promising that he would stop. Chinese national health commission orders institutions not to publish information on the unknown disease.

Jan 4: Singapore Ministry of Health announces its first case

Jan 5: Chinese scientists release the full genome of the new virus.

Jan 7: The U.S. CDC issues a travel warning for people in Wuhan, Hubei province.

Jan 8: South Korea announces its first case.

Jan 9: China reports its first death from the novel coronavirus–a 61 year old man with liver and heart problems.

Jan 10: Li Wenliang develops a bad cough. He will be in hospital by Jan 12 and will die on Feb 7.*

From the Cutting Room Floor...

Sometimes it feels like we are being goaded by George Orwell’s 1984, with periodic announcements informing the citizenry that we are no longer at war with Eurasia and are now at war with Eastasia. Leaders repeat their policies in an impoverished vocabulary. A few days ago, it looked like we might be going to war with Iran. Now that story has simply faded, with no real rhyme or reason. Iran is not a perfect place, but it has been a punching bag of the United States since the 1979 Revolution. Just like with Cuba, we are a nation that struggles to let go of its grudges. There is a real need for reform in Iran, but it seems like the United States’ long embargo against it has only hurt the Iranian people, not its leadership.

The real hullabaloo in America today is not over Iran or unemployment rates or racial inequality or student loan debt or the cost of health insurance. No, it is over Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, backing away from their duties in the English Royal family. Most folks in America love Harry and Meghan and are happy that they have come to live in Canada. That is fine, but does it really make sense that we should care so much about this?  Neil Postman noted back in the 1980s that what Americans want most is to be entertained. We seek amusement in all things, whether it is in the story of this couple’s squabbles with Queen Elizabeth II or in our religion, politics, or news. We are, as Postman says, “a people on the verge of amusing ourselves to death.”[1] Harry and Meghan make for a handy tabloid distraction while waiting in the grocery line to buy a Diet Mountain Dew and a bag of Funyuns, but they aren’t going to help make sense of the universe. Perhaps they don’t want that role either, which would explain why they are moving to Canada.

While standing in line in the grocery store today, it also becomes clear that we are in the full swing of flu season, with stores offering $10 gift certificates just for getting your flu shot. I saw a mom with four kids use the shots to get $50 worth of coupons today. She bought a week of groceries with it — potatoes, generic cereal, rice, beans, noodles, Ragu spaghetti sauce in a can, fruit snacks on sale, peanut butter and jelly, milk, bread, crackers, frozen Tyson chicken, and a cookie for each kid, in that order, through the store. Everyone who raised children poor knows that menu cold.

Perhaps this is no the year to skip the flu shot. Dr. Anthony Fauci at the Center for Disease Control says we are at February and March levels of the flu already—when flu’s at its worst—and that this year’s season started back in September, earlier than normal. There are over four hundred dead so far this year.[2] Children have been hospitalized.[3] The elderly, asthmatics, and the immunocompromised are the most at risk. The Year of the Rat is starting out as advertised.

[1] Neil Postman and Andrew Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, Anniversary edition (New York, N.Y., U.S.A: Penguin Books, 2005), 4.
[2] CDC, “Weekly U.S. Influenza Surveillance Report (FluView),” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, live updates,
[3] Elizabeth Cohen, “Northeast Struck by Flu as Virus Sets Tragic Record for Children around the Country,” CNN, January 7, 2020,
Read more

*If the pdf thumbnails are not appearing, please reload the page.

CDC. “Weekly U.S. Influenza Surveillance Report (FluView).” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020 2019.
Coston, Michael. “Avian Flu Diary: CDC Issues Level 1 (Watch) Travel Notice For Unidentified Pneumonia – Wuhan, China.” Avian Flu Diary (blog), January 6, 2020.

Cohen, Elizabeth. “Northeast Struck by Flu as Virus Sets Tragic Record for Children around the Country.” CNN, January 7, 2020.

Zhao, Z., F. Zhang, M. Xu, K. Huang, W. Zhong, W. Cai, Z. Yin, et al. “Description and Clinical Treatment of an Early Outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in Guangzhou, PR China.” Journal of Medical Microbiology, 52, no. 8 (2003): 715–20.
WHO. “WHO Advice for International Travel and Trade in Relation to the Outbreak of Pneumonia Caused by a New Coronavirus in China,” January 10, 2020.