Museum of America in the Pandemic Year, 2020

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-Mar 27:  House and Senate pass coronavirus relief and stimulus bill which includes expanded unemployment benefits and cash payments to those eligible. The president signs H.R. 748, the “Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security” (CARES) Act. The emergency legislation implements broad ranging remedial measures designed to curb the economic impact of the pandemic. Trump reluctantly invokes the Defense Protection Act to force General Motors to produce ventilators. However, GM says that the company is unaware of any order, and that the president’s actions do not change plans already in the works to produce the ventilators. The same day, Trump questions whether governors need the ventilators that they are requesting. “I have a feeling that a lot of the numbers that are being said in some areas are just bigger than they’re going to be,” President Trump tells Fox News Host Sean Hannity.  The CIA warns its employees not to take hydroxychloroquine, the medication touted by the president, because it can result in sudden death. The FDA approves  a novel coronavirus test for emergency use that can reportedly provide diagnostic results in less than 15 minutes. The Dow Jones Industrial Average sinks another 915 points. 

-Mar 28: President Trump backs down from ordering a quarantine of the New York region, including New Jersey and Connecticut. The CDC urges residents in the tri-state area to halt non-essential travel for the next 14 days. California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) announces that the number of novel coronavirus patients in the state’s intensive care unit beds more than doubled overnight from 200 on Friday to 410 on Saturday.

-Mar 29: President Trump extends federal social distancing guidelines until the end of April, just days after saying he hoped to lift them and restart the economy by Easter, April 12. The governors of New York, Michigan, and Louisiana warn  that hospitals in their states, all hot spots in the coronavirus pandemic, were facing supply shortages and overwhelming surges in COVID-19 cases. President Trump touts the TV ratings of his coronavirus news briefings.  Despite the virus being entirely novel as of late 2019, President Trump falsely claims that he inherited “obsolete” and “broken” coronavirus tests from the Obama administration. The Trump administration resists nationalizing the supply chain for PPE, causing “bedlam” in the PPE market.  “Today, I, as leader of FEMA’s supply chain task force, am blind to where all the product is,” says Rear Adm. John Polowczyk, the senior Navy official in charge of  fixing the supply chain. Instead of using the Defense Production Act to nationalize the supply chain for PPE, the federal government resists doing so. The result is a “global supply-chain bedlam,” with states competing for critical medical supplies in the face of scams, logistical hurdles, and inflated prices.

-Mar 30: Amazon workers and shoppers for the grocery delivery service Instacart walkout and stop accepting orders to demand better protections. Federal judges  temporarily block bans on abortion imposed in Texas, Ohio, and Alabama during the coronavirus pandemic.  Economists at the Federal Reserve’s St. Louis District project the unemployment rate in the United States could hit 32.1 percent, placing 47 million people out of work. Hospital ship USNS Comfort arrives in New York. Despite warnings, FDA issues an emergency use authorization (EUA) for “hydroxychloroquine sulfate and chloroquine phosphate products” to be donated to the Strategic National Stockpile and donated to hospitals to treat patients with COVID-19. This leads to whistleblower complaints of internal corruption. The captain of the U.S. aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt calls on Navy leaders for “decisive action” to provide isolation facilities and medical care needed by his sailors after a coronavirus outbreak on board. “We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die,” Captain Brett Crozier, the ship’s commanding officer, writes in a letter to Navy leadership. “If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset — our sailors.”*

From the Cutting Room Floor...

One of my favorite parts of the musical Hamilton is the Act 2 cabinet battle between Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson. In this scene, Lin Manuel-Miranda wittily captures one of the foundational questions in American history: How much authority should the central government hold versus the state governments? Often, it seems that Jeffersonian “states’ rights” arguments have won out. States still hold a lot of power, from how they run elections to how they manage public health and education. There have been key moments in our history, however, when our leaders decided that the federal government was the only entity powerful enough to protect its most vulnerable citizens. Lincoln fought the Civil War to stop states from continuing the institution of slavery. In the twentieth century, Dwight Eisenhower started the New Deal and Social Security to help the poor get back on their feet after the Great Depression. John F. Kennedy sent the National Guard to integrate Southern Schools. Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act and launched Medicare, Medicaid, and many other federal programs as a part of his War on Poverty.

This federal vs. state power debate is again becoming a matter of life and death. The 10th Amendment protects the rights of states to control the spread of dangerous diseases within their jurisdictions. This was reinforced in 1824 with the Supreme Court case Gibbons vs. Ogden, when a unanimous ruling gave policing powers to the states, including the ability to impose quarantine conditions. More cases like it have followed. This means that quarantines and business restrictions have to happen at the state level. Governors are the ones who order non-essential workers to stay home.[1]

In the world we live in right now, there are governors in charge who have said openly that they oppose stay at home measures and will reopen as soon as possible. This includes heavily populated states like Florida and Texas. With a president who has said repeatedly that he will not even recommend such actions to the Governors, it seems like we are heading into a situation where some states will quarantine appropriately, and others will not. If this happens, we will never be able to collectively flatten the curve.

On top of this, because there is no federal management of resources, the states are having to compete among themselves to get medical equipment and PPE for health care workers. New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, says that ventilator costs are going up by the day.[2]

Louisiana has now become a third “hot spot” in the national outbreak, behind New York and Washington states, But Louisiana is a much poorer state and won’t win a bidding war for ventilators when competing with other states and hospital corporations.[3]

If ever there was a time for the central government to step up and glue the states together, a rapidly swelling pandemic with 800 Americans already dead is that time. Is this not a moment when free-market capitalism is inefficient, inhuman, unpatriotic, and wholly inappropriate? State divisions should not matter at all right now.

And so, in a nation that considers itself the most advanced in the world, desperate people are 3D printing hospital equipment.[4] Mask sewing groups have sprung up to try to fill the PPE gap.[5]

These are wonderful gestures, but they can’t be sustainable at scale. It reminds me of the Battle of the Marne in 1914 at the beginning of World War I. The French Army needed to transport 5,000 French soldiers to the front to stop the Germans from taking Paris. In a gesture of great élan, French taxi drivers drove the soldiers to the battle just in time to halt the invasion. It was a lovely gesture, but it also said a lot about how frantically unprepared the French were for the fight. That is the world we are in now. Getting masks and ventilators to hospitals is something the federal government should be doing; coordinating between states, rather than instigating competition between them. FEMA is there, but what is it doing, exactly? And regular folks need to stop hoarding masks.

Meanwhile, ER physicians and nurses are communicating familiar ‘front lines’ stories. Few ICU beds, fewer ventilators. More photos of them wearing trash bags for lack of gowns.[6] Ω The system, doctors are saying, is becoming overwhelmed. It will be like this everywhere, if we don’t do something drastic.

[1] “Two Centuries of Law Guide Legal Approach to Modern Pandemic,” April 1, 2020,

[2] Amy Feldman, “States Bidding Against Each Other Pushing Up Prices Of Ventilators Needed To Fight Coronavirus, NY Governor Cuomo Says,” Forbes, March 28, 2020,

[3] Judy Woodruff, “Louisiana Governor: States Are Competing against Each Other for Ventilators,” PBS NewsHour, March 25, 2020,

[4] Olivia Solon and April Glaser, “‘A Worldwide Hackathon’: Hospitals Turn to Crowdsourcing and 3D Printing amid Equipment Shortages,” NBC News, March 21, 2020,

[5] “Masks for Massachusetts,” Facebook, March 28, 2020,

[6] Chris Brooks, “Using Trash Bags for Gowns: Interview with a New York Nurse,” Labor Notes, March 30, 2020, 

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Other Voices

“I do not want to see you in my hospital. I do not want you to go to any hospital in the United States. I do not want you to leave your home, except for essential food and supplies. I do not want you to get tested for the coronavirus, unless you need to be admitted to a hospital.

“For those of us at the forefront, knowing who has COVID-19 won’t change our ability—or inability—to treat patients. The problem is, and will be, our shortage of healthy personnel, personal protective equipment, beds, and ventilators.”

—Fred Milgrim, NYC Emergency-medicine resident physician, March 27, 2020

Fox News. EXCLUSIVE: Trump Goes One-on-One with Hannity to Discuss Coronavirus Response, 2020.
Fed Up Eagle. Bill O’Reilly Discusses the Latest on the Coronavirus, 2020.
SomeGoodNews. Some Good News with John Krasinski Ep. 1, 2020.

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ABA. “Two Centuries of Law Guide Legal Approach to Modern Pandemic,” April 2020.
Adams, Peter. “How Will Coronavirus Pressures Shape the Agency In-Housing Debate?” Marketing Dive, March 30, 2020.
Baranov, P.V, C.M Henderson, C.B Anderson, R.F Gesteland, J.F Atkins, and M.T Howard. “Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 Isolate Wuhan-Hu-1, Complete Genome,” March 30, 2020.
Barry, Ellen. “Days After a Funeral in a Georgia Town, Coronavirus ‘Hit Like a Bomb.’” The New York Times, March 30, 2020, sec. U.S.
Brooks, Chris. “Using Trash Bags for Gowns: Interview with a New York Nurse.” Labor Notes, March 30, 2020.
Davis, Jeffrey. “How Donald Trump Could Steal the Election.” The Atlantic, March 29, 2020.
Feldman, Amy. “States Bidding Against Each Other Pushing Up Prices Of Ventilators Needed To Fight Coronavirus, NY Governor Cuomo Says.” Forbes, March 28, 2020.
Harapan, Harapan, Naoya Itoh, Amanda Yufika, Wira Winardi, Synat Keam, Haypheng Te, Dewi Megawati, Zinatul Hayati, Abram L. Wagner, and Mudatsir Mudatsir. “Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): A Literature Review.” Journal of Infection and Public Health 13, no. 5 (March 29, 2020): 667–73.
Harrison, Judy. “Report: Men with Guns Cut down Tree, Block Driveway to Quarantine Vinalhaven Residents.” Bangor Daily News, March 28, 2020.
Kolbert, Elizabeth. “Pandemics and the Shape of Human History.” The New Yorker, March 30, 2020.
Milgrim, Fred. “A New York Doctor’s Warning.” The Atlantic, March 27, 2020.
Moriarty, Leah F. “Public Health Responses to COVID-19 Outbreaks on Cruise Ships — Worldwide, February–March 2020.” MMWR. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 69 (March 27, 2020).
Radio Free Asia. “Concerns Grow Over Wuhan Doctor Amid Call For Return to Work.” Radio Free Asia, March 30, 2020.
Riley, Jason. “Attorneys Claim LMPD Officers Killed 26-Year-Old EMT in ‘botched’ Police Raid.” WDRB, March 27, 2020.
Shear, Michael D., Abby Goodnough, Sheila Kaplan, Sheri Fink, Katie Thomas, and Noah Weiland. “The Lost Month: How a Failure to Test Blinded the U.S. to Covid-19.” The New York Times, March 28, 2020, sec. U.S.
Silverman, Amy. “People With Intellectual Disabilities May Be Denied Lifesaving Care….” ProPublica, March 27, 2020.
Zhe, Gong, Guo Meiping, and Bu Shi. “New Coronavirus Update: Human-to-Human Infection Confirmed,” March 30, 2020.–NpKofFhlza/index.html.
“Severe Outcomes Among Patients with Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) — United States, February 12–March 16, 2020,” March 27, 2020.
Woodruff, Judy. “Louisiana Governor: States Are Competing against Each Other for Ventilators.” PBS NewsHour, March 25, 2020.
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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.