Museum of America in the Pandemic Year, 2020

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Thursday, March 12

Mar 12: A professor of internal medicine writes in the Red Dawn email chain that senior officials are throwing “15 years of institutional learning out the window and are making decisions based on intuition.” The Dow Jones Industrial Average falls more than 2,300 point after the U.S. bans travel from the Schengen Area in Europe. Major League Baseball suspends spring training and announces season will be delayed because of coronavirus. The NHL and Major League Soccer suspend seasons. PGA and LPGA tours cancel several upcoming events. Broadway shows are suspended. NCAA Basketball cancels March Madness tournament.*

From the Cutting Room Floor...

The mood today is decidedly different. Will we shut down? Will schools close? Will people be fired when shops close? These have replaced “Do you think it’s going to rain later?” as the go-to questions for sparking conversation.

Now it is clear that every day we did nothing back in February because “the flu is worse” or because “it’s China’s problem” likely meant that now more people are infected. It feels distinctly like the beginning of a disaster movie.

I know that this sounds demented, but I would be lying if I didn’t admit that there is something exhilarating to this moment. It reminds me of that afternoon I rode my car through the apocalyptic wake of the EF4 tornado that flattened a good portion of this city. Horrifying, my mouth agape, seeing something eyes don’t know how to process. Yet, I could breathe in the overpowering pine smell left by forests scraped from the earth, watch the pink fiberglass insulation float by among cracked brick and split lumber and paper and shingles and photographs of lives wrecked. Around every corner a new tragedy, and yet I could feel the blood flowing in my veins. I knew that we had been baptized by something important and terrible. Now was the time to do something; now every action mattered.

If the point of yesterday’s presidential evening desk speech was to calm markets, it failed spectacularly. Today was epically bad, perhaps triggered by the inattentiveness of the president, who claimed incorrectly that travel and cargo from 26 European nations has been halted.[1]

Now it seems as though everything is spontaneously shutting down, like a cascade of dominoes let loose on a gymnasium floor. In the wake of the NBA announcement last night, the NHL, MLB, and Major League Soccer delay or suspend their seasons. College basketball conferences eliminate their tournaments, and then the NCAA cancels March Madness and most other collegiate sports. Schools educating half-a-million children in Virginia, Ohio, New York, New Mexico, Tennessee, Washington state, Kentucky San Francisco city schools and Connecticut announce long-term closures. Universities begin moving many of their courses online immediately. The Disney and Universal Studios theme parks are shuttering.So are the Smithsonian Museums, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the National Zoo. And the lights are going out on Broadway.[2]

The news keeps coming in at a breathless rate through the day. New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio announces that gatherings of more than 500 people are prohibited. Other mayors in major cities follow with even more restrictive policies. Television shows agree to stop in-studio recording. Movie studios put films on hold mid-production.

And yet the markets tumble, tumble to among the largest single-day drops in history, shedding off nearly all gains since the beginning of the deregulatory bonanza that characterized the Trump era, his precious “rocket ship” economy. Granted, he didn’t make it go up and he probably didn’t single handedly make it go down, either. If I’m honest, however, one cannot but feel a little bit of—what is that feeling? Is it satisfaction at justice being served? It feels so foreign—that the kleptocrats in charge who have been doing so little for us these last three or so years might be sweating right now.

Of course, this is cold comfort. Now that coronavirus is already in the house, I wonder if all of our frantic latching the door is going to help.



[1] “Travel Limits, Economic Fears Stoke Market Plunge,” The New York Times, March 12, 2020,

[2] Jessie Yeung et al., “March 12 Coronavirus News,” CNN, March 12, 2020, 12,

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Contributors' Voices

From a Public Health-Behavioral Health Policy Worker, Anonymous – 

I didn’t want 2020 to arrive.  It was slowly creeping up on me-my first born was going to graduate high school, June 2020.  Life was going way too quick and soon my daughter would be gone.  By January 2020, the first six months of 2020 were already filled with appointments, trips, school events and more.  Fast forward to Feburary 2020.  I still remember my co-worker, a well seasoned nurse, and I giggling when she was fitted for personal protective gear.  Wasn’t our work place, the health department going “over board”?  

This “new” virus had only shown up at one nursing home, less than 40 miles away.  And the media was calling this virus something after a beer?  Please…this will be over soon.  March 4th, I visit former co-workers at an elementary school, that night our family attends my daughter’s senior wrestling sports banquet (full potluck meal with lots of hugging).  I remind my husband to wipe his hands with a napkin before touching a baby, just to be careful because this virus seems to be growing.  March 6th, I call the local ice ring and make arrangements for ice bumper cars with my family.   We will be fine, nothing to worry about in a public space.  March 10th the local school districts make announcements that they might have to close schools for a brief time due to this “new” virus.  March 11th, tomorrow will be a half day of school for my kids, then school will be closed for 4 weeks. I tell my kids to bring everything home with them, just incase school is closed for a longer time.  I make sure they grab our recently paid for cello.  I check on my kids and husband-no one at school or work seemed worried about the days ahead.  I start wiping down my work space in the office with Clorox wipes and try to avoid a co-worker who likes to “closely” chat and never seems to wash her hands.  

We health department colleagues are still laughing about this “new” virus.  It seems silly that people are getting worked up about this.  A co-worker tells me about the time they were activated at the health department during H1N1 virus-it was a long activation period of 6 weeks straight. Nothing could be as bad as the H1N1 outbreak I was told.  March 12th work place tells me to take my laptop  and work from home for the immediate future-maybe 2-4 weeks.  No big deal, we will be back to the office soon.

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Letter to the Red Dawn email chain
De Blasio, Bill. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio Speaks on the Coronavirus Pandemic – 3/12/2020, 2020.
Senator Tom Cotton. March 12, 2020: Senator Cotton Joins Hannity, 2020.

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

Healthline. “What Does It Mean to Declare a Pandemic?,” March 12, 2020.
Vazquez, Marietta. “Calling COVID-19 the ‘Wuhan Virus’ or ‘China Virus’ Is Inaccurate and Xenophobic,” March 12, 2020.
Cunningham, Erin, and Dalton Bennett. “Coronavirus Burial Pits in Iran so Vast That They’re Visible from Space.” Washington Post, March 12, 2020.
Davis, Ryan. “Attys Prep For Phone Hearings As Fed. Circ. Braces For Virus – Law360,” March 12, 2020.
Walters, Greg. “Trump Just Banned Travel From Europe to Stop The Coronavirus.” Vice (blog), March 12, 2020.
“CDC Tested Only 77 People This Week; Coronavirus Testing Slow around the Nation,” March 12, 2020.
Social Media

##CoronaChallenge Can u do this official dance? Reposting my favorites🎉 Tag 3! @destorm @lianev @splack @official_janina @annivictoriaa ##CoronaDance

♬ Corona Virus – Spence
Additional Links

* 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.