Museum of America in the Pandemic Year, 2020

Pick a SPECIFIC date to explore

Wednesday, March 18

-Mar 17: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin tells reporters  that the Trump administration wants Congress to approve sending checks to most American adults in the next two weeks to help them get through the coronavirus crisis. Former Vice President Joe Biden sweeps Democratic presidential primaries in Florida, Illinois, and Arizona The Kentucky Derby is postponed, as is Maryland’s primary election. University of Minnesota begins testing Hydroxychloroquine.  Only 37 percent of Americans trust what President Trump says about the novel coronavirus outbreak, according to a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll. Europe closes its borders.  President Trump announces that the CDC will suspend entry into the United States from persons from Mexico and Canada. During the press conference, President Trump contradicts himself and states that he felt like the crisis was a pandemic “long before it was called a pandemic.”

-Mar 18:  Wall Street closes for the fourth time in two weeks with the Dow losing 1,300 points. Trump suspends refugee admissions while passing the Families First Coronavirus Response Act to provide testing, emergency leave, additional Medicaid, food assistance, and unemployment benefits.  CDC says 1 in 5 people in hospital are between 20-44 years old. The Census Bureau suspends its field operations in collecting data for the 2020 Census. President Trump signs an Executive Order allowing for use of the Defense Production Act, but the president and vice president make statements suggesting the administration will not use the Act. *

From the Cutting Room Floor...

Let’s talk about the Chinese handling of this virus. Chinese scientists sequenced and publicly released the genetic data early in January. The Chinese government alerted its citizens and put them on severe restrictions in the middle of the largest holiday travel period in the world—about the largest possible flare the Chinese government could have sent up saying that this coronavirus was no joke. They brought the WHO into the reporting process all the way back in December. They allowed Western journalists in to follow their quarantine and death toll, unlike in 2003. They now admit that they missed some early signals, something they refused to do back during the original SARS epidemic.[1] And to top it off, they’re openly sharing that the missed the earliest cases, which seem to go back to mid-November 2019.

At the same time, we know that there were whistleblowers in China who were silenced when they brought attention to the virus in December. Dr. Ai Fen 艾芬 is the emergency room director at Wuhan Central Hospital. She treated cases on the 16th and 27th of December that stood out to her as atypical pneumonia. On the afternoon of the 30th, a diagnostic scan of a patient that had come in just that morning after visiting the Huanan Seafood Market terrified her. The scan read, “SARS coronavirus is a single-stranded positive-strand RNA virus. The main mode of transmission of the virus is close-range droplet transmission or contact with respiratory secretions of patients, which can cause an unusual pneumonia that is highly contagious and can affect multiple organ systems, also known as atypical pneumonia.”[2] She circled “SARS coronavirus” in red. Later on, she shared this information with people over social media and was officially reprimanded for going outside the usual chain of command. Rumors were already spreading. Hospital and city officials worried that Fen’s highlighting of that word ‘SARS’ could incite panic. Too little evidence then existed to make that claim, they told her. She backed down, but she also insisted her colleagues wore masks and gowns around the emergency department.[3]

That night, ophthalmologist Li Wenliang, along with seven other healthcare workers in Wuhan, read Dr. Fen’s message and reposted it. All eight faced even more severe chastisement by the Wuhan Public Security Bureau on January 3rd—after the city government had already closed down Huanan Seafood Market, after the Hong Kong public health department had released its press release on the new virus, and after Sharon Sanders had written about it on Li and the others stood accused of making false statements that disturbed the public. Authorities warned each to cease and desist, presenting them with “admonition” documents. Li signed and fingerprinted the agreement and dutifully returned to work at the hospital. A patient likely infected Li around January 8th, in the middle of a routine eye exam. A few weeks later, the 33-year old doctor lay in his own hospital’s bed as a patient. Less than a month later, after posting much of his story to Weibo, the Chinese social media network, he succumbed to COVID-19.[4] By February 7, everyone in China knew about Li’s story and were chastising their leaders for having silenced him. [5] By then, the government was in full swing mobilizing the population.

For the Trump administration, China has been a blank slate that can carry any meaning that he deems expedient for the moment. He started off framing the American relationship with China positively, emphasizing the news that multinational corporations had weathered the Chinese outbreak, and that Chinese factories had switched back on as indicators that the pandemic was waning globally—even though no actual medical organizations backed up that claim.[6] At the same time, he ignored the methods of mass mobilization that the Chinese have used to manage the spread. These are the modern stereotypes of China—a place where a lot of money can be made, where business is good, and where we don’t talk too much about the social control and engineering that is required to make that business happen.

Q  Thank you, Mr. President. You mentioned the drop of spread in China, the coronavirus cases. Is the U.S. government considering evaluating similar measures in the U.S. in case the situation gets worse?

THE PRESIDENT: Some measures. We’ve been in very close contact with China, including myself with President Xi. He very much wanted this to happen. He wanted this to get out and finished and be done. He worked — he’s been working very, very hard, I can tell you that. And they’re making a lot of progress in China.

You probably saw Starbucks are now opened again. You probably saw that — as I mentioned, Tim just came out and he said Apple is back to normal in terms of production in their facilities in China. They’ve made a lot of progress.[7]

Now, in March, Trump is giving China another label, this time tapping into the old tropes of the Chinese as crafty and dangerous. Trump is now calling it the “Chinese Virus.” 

Why the switch to the new language now? The American media broke the Dr. Li story and the distrust of China by its people a month ago—right at the moment when the Trump administration was loudly telling the American public to calm down and that the Chinese government had the outbreak under control.[8] Back then, the narrative was that coronavirus was “like the flu” but not as bad.[9] Now, the stock market has tanked. There are thousands of cases and over 100 deaths. Calling it the “China Virus” fits the new narrative, deflects blame, and requires nothing from the American people. It endangers Chinese Americans, fans racism, and ignores the deeper systemic causes for the situation in which we now find ourselves.



[1] Li Qingqing, “Pompeo Makes It a Habit of Blaming China, but Politicizing Virus Is Not Good for the US,” Global Times, March 1, 2020,

[2] Elisabeth Bik, “Dr. Ai Fen, 艾芬, the Wuhan Whistle,” Science Integrity Digest, March 11, 2020,

[3] Lily Kuo, “Coronavirus: Wuhan Doctor Speaks out against Authorities,” The Guardian, March 11, 2020,

[4] BBC News, “Wuhan pneumonia: the whistleblower Li Wenliang of the public outbreak passed away,” BBC News 中文, February 6, 2020,

[5] “【第二批联署名单】惟有改变,才是对李文亮医生最好的纪念,” Matters, accessed May 15, 2020,

[6] Xi Jinping, “Speech at the meeting of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee when studying the response to the new coronavirus pneumonia,”, February 3, 2020,

[7]  “Remarks by President Trump, Vice President Pence, and Members of the Coronavirus Task Force in Press Conference,” February 29, 2020.

[8] Miao Zhonhan, “Wuhan Pneumonia / Wuhan Secretary wants citizens to thank the Communist Party for citing a rebound,” CNA, March 7, 2020,; James Griffiths, “Did Xi Jinping Know about the Coronavirus Outbreak Earlier than First Suggested?,” CNN, February 17, 2020,

[9] Helen Davidson et al., “Trump Puts Pence in Charge of US Virus Response—as It Happened,” The Guardian, February 27, 2020,

Read more
Contributors' Voices

From Erin Schmidt, restaurant owner in Cincinnati, OH…

It’s Tuesday. Possibly the strangest week of my life save 9/11. The 2 oldest came home from college for Spring Break on 3/6. Katie turned 20 on 3/9. We were supposed to go do something to mark the day but that didn’t happen. Hibachi at Soho that night we did do (and I forgot the leftovers out on the counter overnight), but we never did get to the Escape Room as planned. Liam & Annie had school during the day. Liam was gearing up for the Winter Guard competition and was at the start of a new volleyball career; Annie was looking forward to softball starting soon.


            On Tuesday into Wednesday [March 10 and 11], news reports from Italy (Italy specifically) told of mass infection and mortality rates from the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Americans in Washington state had been infected and died at a nursing home, and other cases were scattered around the country. Cases around the world were increasing and the WHO declared a pandemic.


            Scott and I went to dinner on Tuesday [March 10] night and both had an ominous feeling. Sporting events were cancelled – NBA, March Madness… The health community was astir with talk. Katie & Bridget had gotten notice from Ohio University that in-person classes were cancelled until March 30 and they were not to return to campus until then. Governor DeWine began briefing the state on what was happening. The White House was giving very mixed messaging. 


            Bridget was supposed to attend the kickoff Billie Eilish concert in Philadelphia on Friday, March 13 with her friend Abby. We had to pull the plug on that one on Wednesday out of concern for Bridget’s health and that of Abby’s grandmother who was driving them. Lots of tears and disappointment. The concert was canceled on Thursday night along with most every event/concert for the next month.


            Saturday, March 14 we went to work, watched the news, and waited. In the span of one week, life was rapidly changing. Sunday, March 15, Governor DeWine ordered all bars and restaurants in Ohio to close that night at 9pm with no timeframe on reopening. Scott spent the afternoon/evening and a very restless night coming up with a plan. We had met as an executive team (Scott, Will, Mark, Hughes, Nancy, and me) on Saturday afternoon to develop a 4-step plan of how we were going to get through the COVID panic. Twenty-four hours later it didn’t matter.

            Sunday we went to bed as millionaires.

            Monday we woke up as paupers.


            Yesterday, [Monday, March 16] was a daylong meeting with the executive team and the General Managers, running to the bank, and figuring out how to close the restaurants and best help our staff. All cash was collected and brought to the home office. (Side note – we had just rented our first office space on March 1. Our company was young and growing rapidly, and this was a big step up from the home office being our living room.) It was a chaotic and emotional day. After everything at the home office was as closed-up as we could make it, Scott and I went to Cabela’s. The wait was >3 hours to buy a gun and ammo was scarce. It wasn’t until that point that I actually became afraid. People were panicking. All throughout the last week there had been runs on grocery stores – no toilet paper, rice, meat, milk – but this was different. It all felt unsafe, strange, and unreal. Scott seemed frantic to buy a gun. Everything he had worked so hard for had been instantly taken away by something no one could control. It felt like we were all being attacked with no way to defend ourselves. Anxiety was palpable everywhere. I spent time applying for unemployment and SNAP benefits. I never thought that would happen. Scott may or may not be eligible for unemployment as a business owner. Rumors are now that travel will be halted. SFO already has a shelter in place order and many cities and states are sure to follow.

            The uncertainty is the killer. After 9/11 there was a lot of uncertainty and fear. This is different. Talk is restrictions could be in place for months. Scott’s parents are coming back to Ohio from Florida as a safeguard. My parents are staying in Florida as of today.


            Scott went to the bank to pull cash to pay the employees. [We chose to pay staff their final pay owed in cash as a safeguard for them.] To get the $75K we need, he has to go back to the bank before or after regular business hours when armed guards will be there to escort the transfer of money. He has to get an affidavit signed and notarized to apply for our own money. The bank was not allowing withdrawals of more than $1,000 as the bank didn’t have the cash on hand. Yesterday, I went to the bank with Mark (as my security) and people were closing accounts and withdrawing all their money. Small bills don’t exist right now. Strange times.


            The restaurants are closed. No revenue, no jobs. We took all the food we could and set up a pantry for employees so they could at least have food on their tables this week. It breaks my heart that we can’t do more.


            Rumors of closures, state border closures, cities shutting down, economy collapse… It’s all a bit much to take in. I’m trying to fix my unemployment application but there is no one to call for assistance. JFS has closed help lines. Too many people filing at once. We have enough food and cash to last us a bit, but so many people are paycheck to paycheck. This is devastating. And folks with no documentation have nowhere to turn. My hope is that we can all stay healthy. After that, it’s all icing!


@ 2pm, 3/17/2020

67 confirmed cases

16 Ohio counties affected

17 hospitalized 


“This is a pandemic,” President Donald Trump said at a March 17 press conference. “I felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic.” While it’s not possible to know what Trump “felt,” there’s no doubt that Trump had minimized the threat of the new coronavirus for weeks in statement after statement. – Rieder, Rem. “Trump’s Statements About the Coronavirus.” FactCheck.Org (blog), March 18, 2020.

Breitbart News. Donald Trump Defends Calling Coronavirus ‘Chinese Virus,’ 2020.
Marsala, Charles. Bourbon Street New Orleans March 18, 2020 Rat Activity during Corona Virus Closure, 2020.
Conservative personality, StevenCrowder, blames everything on the Chinese. COVER-UP: China’s Coronavirus Lies Explained | Louder with Crowder, 2020.
Conservative vlogger, Mark Dice, weighs in on the pandemic. –Mark Dice. Are You Ready?, 2020.
Even during a pandemic law enforcement is still targeting African Americans – Halo Dale. Coronavirus in Woodriver Illinois, 2020.

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

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.”

“We are making every misstep leaders initially made in table-tops at the outset of pandemic planning in 2006,” writes James Lawler, a professor of internal medicine at the University of Nebraska in the Red Dawn email chain. “We had systematically addressed all of these and had a plan that would work – and has worked in Hong Kong/Singapore. We have thrown 15 years of institutional learning out the window and are making decisions based on intuition.” – “The ‘Red Dawn Email Chain,’ between Top U.S. Medical Officials from Jan 18, 2020 to March 17, 2020.” Unclassified DoD, March 17, 2020.

CDCMMWR. “Severe Outcomes Among Patients with Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) — United States, February 12–March 16, 2020.” MMWR. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 69 (March 18, 2020).
Gautret et al. “Hydroxychloroquine and Azithromycin as a Treatment of COVID‐19: Results of an Open‐label Non‐randomized Clinical Trial. International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents,” March 17, 2020.
Telehealth. “Medicare Telemedicine Health Care Provider Fact Sheet,” March 17, 2020.
National Law Review. “Employment Law Questions Related to the COVID-19 Pandemic.” The National Law Review, March 17, 2020.
Todd, Darran. “UPDATE: Dougherty Co. Coronavirus Cases Linked to 2 Funerals.” WALB News 10, March 17, 2020.
Williams, Robert. “Chipotle Tackles Social Distancing with Virtual Hangouts on Zoom.” Marketing Dive, March 17, 2020.
Americans for the Arts. “The Economic Impact of Coronavirus on the Arts and Culture Sector,” March 17, 2020.
Ainsworth, Amber, and Shawn Ley. “‘It Is Scary’: Metro Detroit Nurse Voices Concerns as She Cares for Coronavirus (COVID-19) Patient.” WDIV-TV, March 18, 2020.
Allen-Ebrahimian, Bethany. “Timeline: The Early Days of China’s Coronavirus Outbreak and Cover-Up.” Axios, March 18, 2020.
Gibbens, Sarah. “Why Soap Is Preferable to Bleach in the Fight against Coronavirus.” Science, March 18, 2020.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China. “China Takes Countermeasures Against Restrictive Measures on Chinese Media Agencies in the US,” March 18, 2020.
Qiu, Linda, Bill Marsh, and Jon Huang. “The President vs. the Experts: How Trump Played Down the Coronavirus.” The New York Times, March 18, 2020, sec. U.S.
Social Media
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.