Museum of America in the Pandemic Year, 2020

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Tuesday, February 11

Feb 7: Dr Li Wenliang, a Chinese doctor who issued a warning about the coronavirus outbreak before it was officially recognized, dies in Wuhan. Li became a hero in China and his death sparked a wave of public mourning. The CDC sends public health laboratories contaminated and malfunctioning coronavirus test kits. As a result, nearly 100 public health laboratories cannot use the test kits to test for the virus. Dr. Rick Bright, program leader at BARDA, insists that the federal government increase N95 production for healthcare workers and first responders. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announces that the United States has donated nearly 18 tons of medical supplies to China. President Trump admits his knowledge about airborne transmission and the significant dangers of coronavirus in interview with journalist Bob Woodward (not revealed until September). President Trump fires EU ambassador Gordon Sondland and National Security Council adviser Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who both testified against the president during the impeachment trial.

Feb 8: The first U.S. citizen dies from COVID-19 in Wuhan.

Feb 9: The death toll in mainland China rises to 811, surpassing the number of fatalities from the SARS outbreak in 2003. Two years ago today, President Trump signed a bill that cut $1.35 billion in funding for Prevention and Public Health Fund at the CDC. Navarro, President Trump’s economic advisor, submits an emphatic 2-page memo to the coronavirus task force urging the government immediately to stop exporting N95 masks. The Korean film, “Parasite” makes history, becomes the first film in a language other than English to win the Academy Award for best picture. 

Feb 10: Trump holds a large rally in New Hampshire, attracting thousands of people.  “In theory,” he says, once the weather warms up, “the virus” will “miraculously” go away. China coronavirus deaths exceed 1,000. Coronavirus cases spike on the Diamond Princess cruise ship.

Feb 11:  WHO announces that the disease caused by the new coronavirus will be known by the official name of COVID-19. Bernie Sanders wins the New Hampshire primary, Joe Biden finishes fifth behind Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren; the WHO names coronavirus COVID-19. All four of the prosecutors in the Roger Stone case resign after the DOJ reverses their sentencing recommendation that he serve 9 years in prison for being convicted in 2017 of lying to Congress about his efforts to get hacked information from Wikileaks on the Democrats in order to help the Trump campaign. Anti-bias group says white supremacist propaganda cases doubled in 2019.*

From the Cutting Room Floor...

The horseraces of politics and the Oscars have crowded out news of just about everything else this week. Maybe everyone is just tired of feeling so powerless. Attorney General Bill Barr seems more and more like the new “fixer” for the president. Today he intervened to reduce the sentence of Roger Stone, who was convicted to forty months in prison last year for false statements and witness tampering after obstructing the congressional investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Multiple prosecutors resigned in protest.[1] Instead of going after these convicted henchmen of the president, Barr is pushing the Justice Department to turn the screws on cities who attempt to shield immigrants from what they perceive as the draconian policies of this administration.[2] Right now it feels like some messed up combo of The Wire and House of Cards—the people tasked with serving and protecting the vulnerable against the crooked are instead helping to put the vulnerable in worse positions and freeing the villains. It is exhausting.

Meanwhile, at the suggestion of the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses (ICTV), the WHO renamed this new kind of coronavirus from 2019-nCOV to “SARS-CoV-2.” No easier to say or spell, perhaps, but it recognizes the link to SARS and MERS. The disease caused by this coronavirus is now called COVID-19, “coronavirus disease 2019.”

Not to sound like a worrying nelly, but we do not seem prepared for an actual pandemic. Our healthcare technology may be advanced enough to fight this disease, but the system itself is near breaking. People have been saying this for years.[3] Even people with health insurance can’t afford the care that they receive. In just the last decade or so, our health insurance premiums have gone up 55%, even though our earnings have only gone up 26%. Our deductibles have also gone up 200%.[4] So when you need to go to the doctor, you might have to pay a huge bill even if you’re covered by a very expensive health insurance policy. We’re getting squeezed and squeezed by healthcare.[5]

American healthcare does not incentivize anyone to put patient care first and it doesn’t incentivize us to develop effective preventative care systems. We know that it is far better to help a diabetic manage their blood sugar through regular checkups that could keep them alive for ten more good years than it is to amputate their foot when they come in after years of neglecting their disease, on the verge of death. But there is way more money to be made in amputating a foot than in managing the disease. We live in a system that encourages acute care. Even when we seek preventative care, it is common to be made to wait six months for a doctor’s appointment. Moreover, when we finally go to that appointment six months later, we are lucky if we get 15 minutes with the doctor. Doctors are tightly scheduled like workers in a car factory who have to be able to install an engine by the count of the foreman’s watch.

American healthcare also does not incentivize doctors and hospitals to give people a reasonable death. The vast majority of the money that we spend on healthcare comes at the end of our lives to maintain a quality of life that we might not even want. When my father was in his car accident fifteen-years-ago, it was clear to everyone that he was dying. For three days, they kept him alive on every machine imaginable. Even when it was obvious that his cells were collapsing, they didn’t turn off the machines. And my father had a DNR. My mother, who is a nurse, begged them to stop and let him die. The hospital charged over $100,000 for those last three days. The hospital sought profit, but , at least in part, it was also afraid of liability, which is another contributor to the breaking of American healthcare.

When the doctors and hospitals send their bills for their procedures to the insurance companies, the insurance companies reimburse them and keep themselves in the green by increasing premiums for regular people. Hospital bills are a leading cause of personal bankruptcy in America. And while we spend more money on healthcare, we are not healthier. And that is because the American healthcare system, which is propped up by powerful insurance and hospital groups that have lobbies in Congress, is not designed to make us healthier. It is designed to make money.

I have great insurance, but my deductible is still over a thousand dollars. When I get sick, I don’t always go to the doctor.

If a new virus starts spreading, there are a whole lot of people who will delay going to a physician for fear it will drive them into poverty. And that kind of fear will work to spread more virus.

So, crossing fingers. Perhaps this really will pass us by.


[1] Andrew Prokop, “Prosecutors Resign from Roger Stone’s Case after DOJ Interference in Sentencing,” Vox, February 11, 2020,

[2] Stephen Dinan, “William Barr Looks at Criminal Charges for Sanctuary Cities,” Washington Times, February 10, 2020,

[3] Eric C. Schneider et al., “Mirror, Mirror 2017: International Comparison Reflects Flaws and Opportunities for Better U.S. Health Care,” July 14, 2017,

[4] Craig Palosky and Sue Ducat, “Premiums for Employer-Sponsored Family Health Coverage Rise 5% to Average $19,616; Single Premiums Rise 3% to $6,896,” KFF (blog), October 3, 2018,

[5] Gary Claxton et al., “Employer Health Benefits 2019 Annual Survey” (San Francisco, California: Kaiser Family Foundation, 2019).

Read more
NBC News. Watch The Full NBC News/MSNBC Democratic Debate In Las Vegas | NBC News, 2020.

Trump rally in New Hampshire, Fox news, Feb 10, 2020.

Anderson, Gerard F, Uwe E. Reinhardt, Peter S. Hussey, and Varduhi Petrosyan. “It’s The Prices, Stupid: Why The United States Is So Different From Other Countries.” Health Affairs 22, no. 3 (May 2003).
Claxton, Gary, Matthew Rae, Anthony Damico, Gregory Young, Daniel McDermott, and Heidi Whitmore. “Employer Health Benefits 2019 Annual Survey.” San Francisco, California: Kaiser Family Foundation, 2019 1962.
Drobnic Holan, Angie. “PolitiFact’s Lie of the Year: ‘Death Panels.’” Politifact, December 18, 2009.