Museum of America in the Pandemic Year, 2020

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Wednesday, January 22

Jan 15: The first known case of the novel coronavirus arrives in the U.S., in Washington State.

Jan 16: Researchers in Germany develop a new test for detecting the novel coronavirus. The WHO publishes it. Japan announces its first case. Wuhan officials continue to say that they have had no new cases in two weeks.

Jan 17: The U.S. CDC sends 100 people to three American airports to screen people coming in from Wuhan, China.

Jan 18: Epidemiologists from Beijing, China, arrive in Wuhan and report 17 more cases in Wuhan, with three in critical condition. The Wuhan City government holds its annual banquet. US Health and Human Services head, Alex Azar warns Trump about the virus. Trump replies by asking when flavored vaping products will return to the market.

Jan 19: China confirms cases outside of Wuhan. China confirms that the virus is human to human transmittable.

Jan 20: South Korea reports its first case. The U.S. confirms its first case. The U.S. CDC releases a testing kit.

Jan 21: The Chinese Communist Party tells all local governments that there should be no covering up of cases. The WHO releases its first situation report. Taiwan confirms its first case

Jan 22: WHO reports that 314 cases have been detected globally. Chinese officials announce a quarantine of Wuhan, with no traffic allowed in or out after 10 AM on Jan 23. At this point, an estimated 5 million people have already travelled out of the city. Trump declares at an economic forum in Geneva, “It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.” The WHO meets in Geneva to decide whether or not this is an international health emergency.*

From the Cutting Room Floor...

Ralph Waldo Emerson said that sorrow looks down, worry looks around, and faith looks up. People who look up bang their shins on coffee tables and fall off cliffs.

Right now, “looking around” means watching what is happening with that distant virus in China. The World Health Organization reports that it (whatever “it” is) is now here in the United States. It arrived in Washington State two days ago, clinging to the lungs of a man in his thirties who, upon realizing that he was sick, checked himself into an urgent care clinic in Snohomish County. The office staff gave him a mask to wear and left him waiting for twenty minutes in the front room. It must have been harrowing for him, sitting there alone, knowing that the CDC had put out a health alert, his breath turning more labored, his body aching. Four days earlier, he had flown home from visiting his family in Wuhan. He said that he hadn’t been to the Huanan seafood market where the virus is thought to have started, and he didn’t talk to anyone who was sick. He is (or maybe was?) a healthy non-smoker who hadn’t felt ill until yesterday. They sent him home and told him to quarantine himself while they ran tests. The next day, people in hazmat suits showed up at his house, their face masks fogging up in the warm rain. They took him to an airborne-isolation unit at the Providence Regional Medical Center.[1] The hospital has a beautiful view of the sea.  In 1918, John Muir described the “aspiring forests” of Puget Sound and its “beauty ever changing, in lavish profusion.”[2] There is probably not much of a view for this man from Wuhan.

If there is anything to worry about, it is the time that it took for this man to make it from Wuhan to that airborne-isolation unit. A few days ago, Chinese scientists reported that the virus does spread from human contact. Since no one screened him at any airport, or for the four days between his arrival in the country on the 15th and when he went to see a doctor on the 19th, the risk that he transmitted this virus somewhere along the way seems real.

Trump seems unconcerned:

JOE KERNEN: –are there worries about a pandemic at this point? PRESIDENT TRUMP: No. Not at all. And– we’re– we have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It’s—going to be just fine. JOE KERNEN: Okay. And President Xi– there’s just some– talk in China that maybe the transparency isn’t everything that it’s going to be. Do you trust that we’re going to know everything we need to know from China? PRESIDENT TRUMP: I do. I do. I have a great relationship with President Xi. We just signed probably the biggest deal ever made. It certainly has the potential to be the biggest deal ever made. [3] 

The truth is that no one here is talking about this. Like global warming, school shootings, systemic racism, and gender inequality, we think acutely about these global conundrums, and then a warm sense of being-distracted-by-our-own -messy-lives washes over us, and those of us who are not living in the eye of the storm quietly get on with business as usual. We are, understandably, paying attention to the ongoing impeachment trial, and, of course, are open to the general distraction of television and media. In that vein, it is perhaps a sign of the times to note the sad death of Mr. Peanut at the ripe age of 104. In the video/commercial marking his death, he sacrifices himself to save a white man (Matt Walsh) and a Black man (Wesley Snipes). In an interview, the ad agency said they killed off Mr. Peanut because the popularity of fictional characters soars once once they die. This may be the case, but there are other reasons to let him go. Mr. Peanut always resembled Neville Chamberlain, with his top hat, cane, and monocle—a symbol of the genteel planter class (I think that this was the intended pun in Mr. Peanut, who was created at the turn of the century to make the lowly peanut more palatable to a rising consumer America). I guess no one needs a Foghorn Leghorn peanut man who probably made his wealth on the backs of the working class. You can just imagine him telling Aunt Jemima to make his breakfast.

[1] That hospital, incidentally, is right around the corner from where Laura Palmer lived in “Twin Peaks.”
[2] John Muir, John Muir’s Incredible Travel Memoirs: A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf, My First Summer in the Sierra, The Mountains of California, Travels in Alaska, Steep Trails… (Illustrated): Adventure Memoirs & Wilderness Studies from the Naturalist, Environmental Philosopher and Early Advocate of Preservation of Wilderness, the Author of The Yosemite and Picturesque California (e-artnow, 2015), Chapter 17. [3]
Read more
Trump says we have it totally under control. CNBC, January 22, 2020.

The Death of Mr. Peanut, a lasting symbol of the planter class. January 22, 2020.


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Belvedere, Matthew J. “Trump Says He Trusts China’s Xi on Coronavirus and the US Has It ‘Totally under Control.’” CNBC, January 22, 2020.
Berlinger, Joshua, Steve George, and Ivana Kottasova. “US Has Its First Case of the Wuhan Coronavirus,” January 22, 2020.
Boseley, Sarah. “WHO Steps Back from Declaring Public Health Emergency.” The Guardian, January 22, 2020, sec. World news.
Team, The 2019-nCoV Outbreak Joint Field Epidemiology Investigation, and Qun Li. “An Outbreak of NCIP (2019-NCoV) Infection in China — Wuhan, Hubei Province, 2019−2020.” China CDC Weekly 2, no. 5 (January 22, 2020): 79–80.
Lu, Hongzhou, Charles W. Stratton, and Yi‐Wei Tang. “Outbreak of Pneumonia of Unknown Etiology in Wuhan, China: The Mystery and the Miracle.” Journal of Medical Virology 92, no. 4 (January 16, 2020): 401–2.
Hui, David S., Esam I Azhar, Tariq A. Madani, Francine Ntoumi, Richard Kock, Osman Dar, Giuseppe Ippolito, et al. “The Continuing 2019-NCoV Epidemic Threat of Novel Coronaviruses to Global Health — The Latest 2019 Novel Coronavirus Outbreak in Wuhan, China.” International Journal of Infectious Diseases 91 (February 2020): 264–66.
ECDC. “Cluster of Pneumonia Cases Associated with Novel Coronavirus – Wuhan, China – 2019.” European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, January 17, 2020.
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* Timeline summaries at the top of the page come from a variety of sources:, including The American Journal of Managed Care COVID-19 Timeline (, the Just Security Group at the NYU School of Law (, the “10 Things,” daily entries from The Week (, as well as a variety of newspapers and television programs.