Museum of America in the Pandemic Year, 2020

Pick a SPECIFIC date to explore

-Mar 22:  A vote to advance a massive coronavirus stimulus bill fails in the Senate. Democrats say they are dissatisfied with worker protections in the Republican-written bill.

-Mar 23: States quickly issue stay-at-home orders. Hospitals report facing severe shortages of testing supplies, widespread shortages of PPE, difficulty maintaining adequate staff, and overall shortages of critical supplies.  Principal Inspector General Christi Grimm at the Department of Health and Human Services surveys 323 hospitals across 46 States, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico from March 23-27, 2020. Grimm reports that hospitals are facing severe shortages of testing supplies, widespread shortages of PPE, difficulty maintaining adequate staff, and overall shortages of critical supplies. She also finds that in some cases the protective gear that the federal government provided to hospitals was expired or dry-rotted.  Later, on April 7, President Trump rebukes the Office of Inspector General’s findings as Another Fake Dossier!” and questions whether they are politically motivated. “It’s just wrong,” states the president in response to a reporter’s question on the matter. “Did I hear the word ‘Inspector General’? Really? It’s wrong. … Well where did he come from – the inspector general? What’s his name? … Could politics be entered into that?” *

From the Cutting Room Floor...

Today our two families, the Peacocks and the Petersons, are driving back from the mountains of Northern Georgia where we took one last weekend before the lockdown to hike and get in some solid writing on this journal. This project, which started out as a modest project to collect primary documents for future courses on the histories of pandemics and media, has become a book that needs two writers and a research team. Erik and I realized  months ago that we were both collecting stories and saving sources, both driven as historians by the sense that we are living in a transformative moment and that we need to save these experiences as best we can while they are happening.

We are writing because memory is a sieve. When I think back to some of the most pivotal moments in our nation’s history that I have experienced—the explosion of the Challenger, the fall of the Berlin Wall, 9/11, the death of Treyvon Martin, the Sandy Hook shootings—my memories are reduced to fleeting images and sensations. After Sandy Hook, I remember that I broke down crying in front of someone I barely know while driving my car. He awkwardly asked me to pull over so that I wouldn’t have an accident. I remember a few images from the news and the active shooter drills in my daughters’ schools. But the rest is lost. Here are the correctives to the lost memories of this pandemic. 

We are also writing because sources are fragile things, easily overlooked and forgotten, like treasure maps left to decay in dusty attics. In the age of the internet, you would think that historical material is eternally preserved, especially if it was retweeted two hundred thousand times. But the materials do get lost either because they disappear into the massive quantity of informational detritus that inundates us every hour of every day, needles lost in haystacks made of needles, or because we forget that these sources once mattered to us and so we never even think to go looking for them.

Winding down the small mountain roads near Suches, Georgia, I try not to think about the plans I had made for this spring and summer. Everyone who lives through this year will have a story to tell about the dreams that were put on hold or cancelled by this pandemic. I have been planning to hike the first 238 miles of the Appalachian Trail in April. I did all the careful research, making a bivvy out of Tyvek rain-proofing tarp, learning how to dehydrate chili, practicing hanging my food from a tree so that bears don’t steal it, setting up a system for purifying stagnant pond water to drink, training on the weekends to be able to cover twenty miles in a day. It is all closed now. The shelters aren’t safe from the virus; neither are the towns. “You can do it next year,” my daughter told me, as I packed up all the food packages that I was preparing to mail to myself along the trail. “Sure,” I say, smiling at her. I know that everyone is disappointed, and my issues are not life-threatening. Maybe next year.

On our drive from the mountains, the freeways have much less traffic. No busses take students to school. No airplanes. America sits silently, holding its breath.

Not everyone is embracing the quarantine, most notably the president, who today sends out an all-caps tweet yelling that the “cure” cannot be worse than the “problem”.  It is a phrase that reflects a profound lack of concern over the lives of average Americans. What he means is that the economy matters more than people dying from COVID. Admittedly, his entire value is wrapped up in his professed ability to be a great businessman and make lots of money. Now the stock market is collapsing and debt is spiraling out of control. 

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Contributors' Voices

From Dr. Craig A Spencer,  MD, MPH, Director of Global Health in Emergency Medicine at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center.

Wake up at 6:30am. Priority is making a big pot of coffee for the whole day, because the place by the hospital is closed. The Starbucks too. It’s all closed. On the walk, it feels like Sunday. No one is out. Might be the freezing rain. Or it’s early. Regardless, that’s good.

Walk in for your 8am shift: Immediately struck by how the calm of the early morning city streets is immediately transformed. The bright fluorescent lights of the ER reflect off everyone’s protective goggles. There is a cacophony of coughing. You stop. Mask up. Walk in.

You take signout from the previous team, but nearly every patient is the same, young & old: Cough, shortness of breath, fever. They are really worried about one patient. Very short of breath, on the maximum amount of oxygen we can give, but still breathing fast.

You immediately assess this patient. It’s clear what this is, and what needs to happen. You have a long and honest discussion with the patient and family over the phone. It’s best to put her on life support now, before things get much worse. You’re getting set up for that, but…

You’re notified of another really sick patient coming in. You rush over. They’re also extremely sick, vomiting. They need to be put on life support as well. You bring them back. Two patients, in rooms right next to each other, both getting a breathing tube. It’s not even 10am yet. 

For the rest of your shift, nearly every hour, you get paged: Stat notification: Very sick patient, short of breath, fever. Oxygen 88%. Stat notification: Low blood pressure, short of breath, low oxygen. Stat notification: Low oxygen, can’t breath. Fever. All day…

Sometime in the afternoon you recognize you haven’t drank any water. You’re afraid to take off the mask. It’s the only thing that protects you. Surely you can last a little longer – in West Africa during Ebola, you spent hours in a hot suit without water. One more patient…

By late afternoon, you need to eat. Restaurant across the street is closed. Right, everything is closed. But thankfully the hospital cafeteria is open. You grab something, wash your hands (twice), cautiously take off your mask, & eat as fast as you can. Go back. Mask up. Walk in.

Nearly everyone you see today is the same. We assume everyone is #COVID?19. We wear gowns, goggles, and masks at every encounter. All day. It’s the only way to be safe. Where did all the heart attacks and appendicitis patients go? Its all COVID.

When your shift ends, you sign out to the oncoming team. It’s all #COVID?19. Over the past week, we’ve all learned the signs – low oxygen, lymphopenia, elevated D-dimer. You share concerns of friends throughout the city without PPE. Hospitals running out of ventilators.

Before you leave, you wipe EVERYTHING down. Your phone. Your badge. Your wallet. Your coffee mug. All of it. Drown it in bleach. Everything in a bag. Take no chances. Sure you got it all??? Wipe it down again. Can’t be too careful.

You walk out and take off your mask. You feel naked and exposed. It’s still raining, but you want to walk home. Feels safer than the subway or bus, plus you need to decompress. The streets are empty. This feels nothing like what is happening inside. Maybe people don’t know???

You get home. You strip in the hallway (it’s ok, your neighbors know what you do). Everything in a bag. Your wife tries to keep your toddler away, but she hasn’t seen you in days, so it’s really hard. Run to the shower. Rinse it all away. Never happier. Time for family.

You reflect on the fact that it’s really hard to understand how bad this is – and how bad its going to be – if all you see are empty streets. Hospitals are nearing capacity. We are running out of ventilators. Ambulance sirens don’t stop.

Everyone we see today was infected a week ago, or more. The numbers will undoubtedly skyrocket overnight, as they have every night the past few days. More will come to the ER. More will be stat notifications. More will be put on a ventilator.

We were too late to stop this virus. Full stop. But we can slow it’s spread. The virus can’t infect those it never meets. Stay inside. Social distancing is the only thing that will save us now. I don’t care as much about the economic impact as I do about our ability to save lives.

You might hear people saying it isn’t real. It is. You might hear people saying it isn’t bad. It is. You might hear people saying it can’t take you down. It can. I survived Ebola. I fear #COVID?19. Do your part. Stay home. Stay safe. And every day I’ll come to work for you. 


DW News. Coronavirus Update: Italy Struggles to Combat “tsunami” of Cases | DW News, 2020.
Today. “US Surgeon General Jerome Adams on Coronavirus: ‘This Week, It’s Going to Get Bad.’”, March 23, 2020.
Klepper, Jordan. Jordan Klepper vs. Trump Supporters | The Daily Show. The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, 2020.

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

Plumer, Brad, and Nadja Popovich. “Traffic and Pollution Plummet as U.S. Cities Shut Down for Coronavirus.” The New York Times, March 22, 2020.
Brooks, Daniel. “Banner Health Experts Warn against Self-Medicating to Prevent or Treat COVID-19.” Banner Health News, March 23, 2020.
Fernandes, Nuno. “Economic Effects of Coronavirus Outbreak (COVID-19) on the World Economy.” SSRN Scholarly Paper. Rochester, NY: Social Science Research Network, March 23, 2020.
Social Media
Additional Links
  • Perrone, Matthew. “US Virus Testing Faces New Headwind: Lab Supply Shortages.” ABC News, March 21, 2020.
  • Coyler, Jeff, and Daniel Hinthorn. “These Drugs Are Helping Our Coronavirus Patients.” Wall Street Journal – Opinion, March 22, 2020.
  • McGrane, Victoria. “Mask-Making Projects Are Popping All over as Crafters Mobilize against Coronavirus – The Boston Globe.” Boston Globe, March 22, 2020.
  • Ramsay, Stuart. “Coronavirus: Italy’s Hardest-Hit City Wants You to See How COVID-19 Is Affecting Its Hospitals.” Sky News, March 22, 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.