Museum of America in the Pandemic Year, 2020

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Mar 19: California becomes the first state to issue a stay-at-home order, mandating all residents to stay at home except to go to an essential job or shop for essential needs. Connecticut delays its presidential primary election to June. The U.S. State Department raised the global travel advisory to Level 4: Do Not Travel. The CDC issues updated guidelines instructing medical professionals how to use homemade masks “as a last resort” if PPE is not available. That same day: President Trump states that the responsibility of supplying PPE to medical professionals lies with state governors, not the federal government. “Governors are supposed to be doing a lot of this work, and they are doing a lot of this work,” President Trump says at the daily White House briefing. “The Federal government is not supposed to be out there buying vast amounts of items and then shipping. You know, we’re not a shipping clerk.” In an interview with journalist Bob Woodward, Trump says that he has knowingly been playing down the dangers of the virus.  News breaks that Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Richard Burr (R-N.C.) sold up to $1.56 million in stocks in February after receiving a briefing on the expected severity of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States. During that period, Burr was assuring the public that the Trump administration had everything under control, although a secret recording emerged in which he warned well-connected constituents to prepare for a dire economic situation.*

From the Cutting Room Floor...

War profiteering. Now pandemic profiteering.

The stock market has crashed. Those who have stocks are checking their accounts, calculating losses. Everyone that is, except Senator Richard Burr, who sold $1.7 million worth of stocks a week before everything fell apart.

Back on Feb 27, Burr, who is the Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, publicly supported the President, but sold stocks after learning that the virus was much closer to the cataclysmic influenza pandemic from a century ago. He warned friends and family that schools might have to be closed and that the military would have to be called. Then, he sold his stocks while the price was still high. 

It is actually illegal for Members of Congress to trade on information obtained through their work on Capitol Hill. His selling of the stocks may still be forgivable since you can’t really be responsible for the things that you are unable not to know. More problematic is the simple fact that he never told the public, who he was paid to serve. Maybe he kept his mouth shut for the same reason that the intelligence community didn’t share their information about the virus earlier on. Maybe he was afraid that Trump would come down on him for inciting panic. In any case, Burr now has a response ready. He compared the NPR story that broke the news of his stock sales to a tabloid fabrication. But he didn’t deny it. He just spread the blame, saying that lots of people, not just his friends, were at that meeting. But that’s not the point. If he knew this information, he should have shared it. That’s his job.

In the meantime, the rest of us are just trying to make do. Here is a paragraph from an email I wrote today to all my history students as they pack up and head home. I couldn’t bring myself to sound panicked or sad. They seem so worried already. Also, I need them to finish the semester and do the work, even if they are stuck at home. I mean, come on–online-only learning has been a thing for decades now!


Dearest History Majors,

I know that everyone is scared, but I really believe that the quarantine can be an opportunity. History shows that in periods of confinement it is a good idea to make a schedule for yourself. Be disciplined with your days. Think of what Martin Luther King accomplished while he was locked in a Birmingham jail. Oscar Wilde wrote The Importance of Being Earnest and Victor Hugo wrote Les Miserables while in exile. Use this opportunity to learn and grow. You can choose to make something worthwhile out of this experience. And most of all, be safe.

With Warmest Regards, Dr. Peacock


Later in the day, Peterson received this email from a former student:

“I am sad that the year has ended this way, sad that people are getting sick, sad that my plans for the summer are shot. I’m confused and angry at how things are being handled. Smaller, poorer countries than ours seem to have no problem finding masks for their healthcare workers. No one seems to be paying attention to the quarantine. I am confused by the ocean of emails I am receiving from professors and my school, each of them giving different directions on what I have to do to pass. But I think I have to try and remember that I still have it so much better than many others do. More than anything, I want to be a support for the people around me. I want to steady and positive. I want to be the kind of person that responds well in a crisis.

“Right now what I really need is toilet paper and Lysol. I have an old sewing machine somewhere that maybe I could use to make a mask. Also, Netflix calls.”


…and of course, that’s the whole problem. We want people to use this time of social isolation to do great things, to read great books, to think great thoughts, to begin great projects. But entertainment and distraction is pervasive.

Read more
Fox News video. Tucker Carlson Discusses Chloroquine with Dr Greg Rigano. Fox News, 2020.
D Plus Production. President Trump Announces FDA Approval of Hydroxychloroquine for Treatment of Coronavirus, 2020.
PBS NewsHour. PBS NewsHour Full Episode, Mar 19, 2020, 2020.

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

CA gov. “Governor Newsom Executive Order N-33-20,” March 19, 2020.
Chauhan, Vivek, Sagar Galwankar, Bonnie Arquilla, Manish Garg, Salvatore Di Somma, Ayman El-Menyar, Vimal Krishnan, Joel Gerber, Reuben Holland, and Stanislaw P. Stawicki. “Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19): Leveraging Telemedicine to Optimize Care While Minimizing Exposures and Viral Transmission.” Journal of Emergencies Trauma 13, no. 1 (March 19, 2020): 20–24.
Field, Matt, and John Krzyzaniak. “Why Do Politicians Keep Breathing Life into the False Conspiracy Theory That the Coronavirus Is a Bioweapon?” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (blog), March 19, 2020.
Gould, Elise, and Heidi Shierholtz. “Not Everybody Can Work from Home: Black and Hispanic Workers Are Much Less Likely to Be Able to Telework.” Economic Policy Institute (blog), March 19, 2020.
McQuade, Barbara. “Barr Is Dismantling Charges Filed by Mueller.” Just Security, March 19, 2020.
Politico Magazine. “Coronavirus Will Change the World Permanently. Here’s How.” POLITICO, March 19, 2020.
Social Media
Additional Links
  • The Covid Art Museum:
  • CDC. “Drug Overdose Deaths,” March 19, 2020.
  • Hirneisen, Madison. “‘If I Get Corona, I Get Corona’: ‘Selfish’ Spring-Breakers Spark Fierce Backlash.” The Washington Times, March 19, 2020.
  • Rogers, Adam. “Chloroquine May Fight Covid-19—and Silicon Valley’s Into It.” Wired, March 19, 2020.
  • Schelden, Peter. “The Black Death: What Bubonic Plague Reveals About COVID-19 Coronavirus Pandemic – MedicineNet Health News.” MedicineNet, March 19, 2020.
  • The White House. “Remarks by President Trump, Vice President Pence, and Members of the Coronavirus Task Force in Press Briefing.” The White House, March 19, 2020.

* 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.