Museum of America in the Pandemic Year, 2020

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Wednesday, February 26

Feb 26: Trump appoints Vice President Pence to lead the White House response to the outbreak.  Trump says the “risk remains really low” and “we’re very, very ready for this.” The CDC announces that a person in California has tested positive for coronavirus, or COVID-19, without traveling to a place with an outbreak or having contact with someone infected. Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper informs overseas American military commanders that they should “check in” and provide advance notice before making decisions on how to protect their military personnel from the virus (The next day, the DoD denies this, although Secretary Esper later seemingly confirms this during a testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee). The House passes the Emmett Till Antilynching Act, a bill making lynching a federal hate crime. An employee at a Coors brewery in Wilwaukee, Wisonsin, kills 5 co-workers.*

From the Cutting Room Floor...

News of the virus is steady now. The Democrats are pushing to give more money to emergency healthcare than Trump’s administration is asking for—four times more. Trump’s head of Health and Human Services asked for $2.5 billion in spending, only $1.25 billion of which would go to fight the coronavirus. The Democrats offered $8.5 billion. I’m no believer in massive spending, but if the CDC tests are faulty and we don’t have easy access to more, wouldn’t it make sense to spend the money and fix it? Are we being pound foolish? It is reminiscent of how Catherine the Great responded to the news that a Cossack upstart named Pugachev had recruited some locals and attacked the city of Kazan in 1773. She put a tiny, 500-ruble bounty on his head and went back to her party. A year later, Pugachev’s army was killing her generals and the dead littered the countryside. She would have been smart to take the threat more seriously.

At the Coronavirus Taskforce briefing today, Trump says he’s okay taking whatever amount of money Congress offers. Then he invokes the flu stat, that “25,000 to 69,000 people a year” die of the flu. He says we’ll be at only five people infected pretty soon, then maybe one or two (I guess he thinks that the folks who are currently in quarantine are the only people who have the virus). Then he claims that Johns Hopkins has found the U.S. to be the most prepared in the world for a pandemic.

Trump announces that Vice President Pence is now in charge of the coronavirus task force. Maybe this move to put Pence at the helm is done to make it look like the administration is taking the virus more seriously. For a president who came into office on the promise of business growth, it can’t look good to have the market tanking. Azar at HHS is still there, still saying that the risk to everyone is low, that the containment policies are working. Anne Schuchat from the CDC also seems to be saying that our quarantining of the individuals from Wuhan and the Diamond Princess worked. She also says that businesses and schools should get their “pandemic preparedness plans” together. Those seem like contradictory comments. Why would we need to prepare for a pandemic if there isn’t one? Also, I seriously doubt that my daughter’s public school has a pandemic plan.

Anthony Fauci from the CDC then gets up and says that it’s going to take a year to a year-and-a-half to create and test a vaccine. That’s not surprising. But given how quickly this second SARS is spreading, it’s a little disconcerting to hear it so bluntly. There are other possible treatments in the intervening months. The biotech industry is testing a drug called remdesivir and other antivirals. It’s a little disturbing to have a drug company named “Gilead” spearheading these trials. I’ve read the Handmaid’s Tale. I’m just saying.

Trump’s inability to lead in a crisis, to stop talking about himself, to work within established norms, to tell the truth for more than one or two consecutive words, or to perform basic functions like speaking coherently or standing normally is disconcerting. Nevertheless, a study released today by the Public Religion Research Institute shows his support has not really suffered through his entire chaotic presidency. The Muller investigation, the impeachment, his incessant golfing, his mocking of cherished American symbols and military heroes, his complete lack of knowledge about biblical Christianity—none of these things seem to matter to his white evangelical base. One might suspect that they were interested in other things that he gives them.

A Letter from a friend arrives today, on this Ash Wednesday:

I went to the Ash Wednesday service tonight to get ashes rubbed onto my forehead. Ashes mixed from last year’s burned Palm Sunday palms and oil, with the reminder that we are dust glued together with spit and sweat and blood. The sanctuary is the soaring A-frame sort from the ’70s. Candlelight danced off the wood plank ceiling. In the silence, the boards cooled and creaked. I needed a break from all this news, honestly. As I waited for the ritual, I couldn’t help but imagine the virus like a shadow monster out there, trying to find its way in between the boards and all of us in need of the sacred symbol streaked on our foreheads—quickly now—to fend it off.

I think back to when I used to attend a white evangelical megachurch. We didn’t do this ritual, didn’t talk about death at all really. Judgment, sure. Judgment for all the unredeemed and for the unfortunate brown folks living in the “10-40 window” who have not heard of our white Jesus and don’t sing the vapid, repetitive worship songs played by a white man with a guitar on stage at front. But not dying itself—not how simultaneously fragile and robust we are. For instance, how this ancient woman in line in front of me with tissue-paper skin and matchstick bones can sing hymns and pray and say the creeds and shuffle slowly all the way in here from the parking lot week in and week out, no matter the rain or heat, with casseroles and corn bread. This is as miraculous to me as how quickly she will fall if a microscopic envelope of RNA lands on her fingers just before she rubs her eyes. In the evangelical church there was talk of “strongholds of sin” and “decisions for Christ,” but somehow they missed this. Our ability to stumble through four billion heartbeats, just persisting, while all around us things are conspiring to dissolve us. Coronavirus is just one among many.

All these thoughts sort of smash together in that moment, as I watch her tip her forehead up so the pastor can streak the oily ashes down, then across, to say her name as a child of God, and remind her that death is coming for her, as it is for all of us. I can’t help it. Suddenly, vehemently, down deep in my gut, I want the President of the United States to do his goddamn job to keep the virus monster at bay—or die trying. Preferably both.

Read more

Coronavirus Taskforce Briefing, NBC News, Feb 26, 2020.

Right-wing Youtube vlogger, Mike Dice, on the Democratic primary. Mark Dice. A TOTAL MESS!, 2020.

The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Trump Unconcerned As Stock Market Plummets On Coronavirus Fears, 2020.

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

Sheahan, Timothy P., Amy C. Sims, Sarah R. Leist, Alexandra Schäfer, John Won, Ariane J. Brown, Stephanie A. Montgomery, et al. “Comparative Therapeutic Efficacy of Remdesivir and Combination Lopinavir, Ritonavir, and Interferon Beta against MERS-CoV.” Nature Communications 11, no. 1 (December 2020): 222.

Text of Schumer’s $8.5 Billion Coronavirus funding request, February 26, 2020.’S%20CORONAVIRUS%20REQUEST.pdf

Graham, Barney S., John R. Mascola, and Anthony S. Fauci. “Novel Vaccine Technologies: Essential Components of an Adequate Response to Emerging Viral Diseases.” JAMA 319, no. 14 (April 10, 2018): 1431.
Livingston, Edward, Karen Bucher, and Andrew Rekito. “Coronavirus Disease 2019 and Influenza 2019-2020.” JAMA 323, no. 12 (February 26, 2020): 1122.
PRRI Staff. “Despite Chaos and Controversy, Trump Favorability Stable Throughout 2019.” PRRI (blog), February 26, 2020.
Senate Democrats. “Schumer Offers Detailed Proposal For $8.5 Billion In Emergency Coronavirus Funding.” Senate Democrats, February 26, 2020.
Gilead Sciences. “Gilead Sciences Initiates Two Phase 3 Studies of Investigational Antiviral Remdesivir for the Treatment of COVID-19.”, February 26, 2020.
Cyranoski, David. “Mystery Deepens over Animal Source of Coronavirus.” Nature 579, no. 7797 (February 26, 2020): 18–19.
Hansen, Sarah. “Coronavirus Has Finally Caught Up With The Stock Market, And Trump Is Reportedly ‘Furious.’” Forbes, February 26, 2020.
“Analysis | You Might Not Want to Rely on Trump for Information about the Risk of Coronavirus.” Washington Post, February 26, 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.