Museum of America in the Pandemic Year, 2020

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Tuesday, February 18

Feb 14: The HHS and the National Security Council produce a memo titled “U.S. Government Response to the 2019 Novel Coronavirus.” Nine Democratic senators formally call for AG Barr’s resignation.

Feb 15: According to researchers at ICahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, the coronavirus begins to circulate in New York by mid-February.

Feb 16: The WHO sends a team to China that includes two U.S. experts, although the Americans are not permitted to visit the “core area” in Wuhan. American passengers on the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which has been quarantined in Japan since Feb. 3 due to 356 cases of coronavirus on board, are evacuated. 1,100 ex-Justice Department officials call for AG Barr’s resignation over the reduced sentencing decision for Roger Stone, claiming that Barr is doing “the president’s bidding.”

Feb 17: Fourteen of the American passengers evacuated from the Diamond Princess are confirmed to have been infected with the “flu-like” virus.

Feb 18: President Trump pardons former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich who attempted to sell Barack Obama’s former Senate seat when he was elected president. Bernie Sanders shows a double-digit lead in the Democratic Party presidential primary polls.*

From the Cutting Room Floor...

God knows I hope I’m wrong, but all of this stuff with the Diamond Princess seems frighteningly disorganized and like things could get out of hand. The Japan Ministry of Health says that even on the first day of the quarantine, there were 10 cases on board, and by February 22, there were 634 cases on the ship.[1] How can we be sure that the people who left weren’t sick? It isn’t like everyone who was going to get the virus got it on the first day of the quarantine. If people can carry this virus and be contagious with no symptoms, then has this virus just been dispersed around the world? Maintaining public health is a lot like maintaining a nuclear reactor—the details matter.

The stories of this ordeal make me think of an article that I just read in the journal, Antiquity, about British archaeologists who have discovered a mass grave dating to the Black Death. Forty-eight men, women, and children show signs of death by plague. What’s extraordinary about it is that it is the first such mass grave found in a rural site in England. People have imagined that the plague was an urban phenomenon, and then here it is, this country site of mass sorrow and death. [2] The worst viruses bank on us underestimating them. In the 14th century, they went to the countryside and assumed they were safe. In the 21st century, we lean into our technology and assume we are safe. I hope that I am a Chicken Little and not a Cassandra.


[1] Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (Japan). Press Release. February 2020. See a summary of these events at Eisuke Nakazawa, Hiroyasu Ino, and Akira Akabayashi, “Chronology of COVID-19 Cases on the Diamond Princess Cruise Ship and Ethical Considerations: A Report From Japan,” Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness, March 24, 2020, 1–8,

[2] Hugh Willmott et al., “A Black Death Mass Grave at Thornton Abbey: The Discovery and Examination of a Fourteenth-Century Rural Catastrophe,” Antiquity 94, no. 373 (Feb 18, 2020): 179–96,

Read more
PBS NewsHour. WATCH: WHO Updates on Novel Coronavirus Outbreak — Feb. 14, 2020, 2020.
CNA Insider. COVID-19: The Inside Story Of The Diamond Princess Coronavirus Infection | Outbreak Onboard, 2020.
CNBC Television. In Their Own Words: Newlyweds Spend First Valentine’s Day in Quarantine, 2020.

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

Chan, Jasper Fuk-Woo, Shuofeng Yuan, Kin-Hang Kok, Kelvin Kai-Wang To, Hin Chu, Jin Yang, Fanfan Xing, et al. “A Familial Cluster of Pneumonia Associated with the 2019 Novel Coronavirus Indicating Person-to-Person Transmission: A Study of a Family Cluster.” The Lancet 395, no. 10223 (February 15, 2020): 514–23.
Green, Andrew. “Li Wenliang.” The Lancet 395, no. 10225 (February 18, 2020): 682.
Katz, Brigit. “Mass Grave Shows the Black Death’s ‘Catastrophic’ Impact in Rural England | Smart News | Smithsonian Magazine,” February 18, 2020.
Kim, Hyungjin. “Outbreak of Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19): What Is the Role of Radiologists?” European Radiology, February 18, 2020, s00330-020-06748–2.
Willmott, Hugh, Peter Townend, Diana Mahoney Swales, Hendrik Poinar, Katherine Eaton, and Jennifer Klunk. “A Black Death Mass Grave at Thornton Abbey: The Discovery and Examination of a Fourteenth-Century Rural Catastrophe.” Antiquity 94, no. 373 (February 18, 2020): 179–96.
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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.