Museum of America in the Pandemic Year, 2020

Pick a SPECIFIC date to explore

-Apr 16: The White House unveils its proposed guidelines for resuming economic activity. 4,591 deaths are reported in the United States from COVID-19, nearly doubling the previous one-day record of 2,569. Jobless claims rise to 22 million in the last month.

-Apr 17: Trump tweets repeatedly, calling to “liberate” states where   protesters are demanding their governors reopen businesses. “Liberate Michigan!”, “Liberate Minnesota!,” and “Liberate Virginia, and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!” Trump says in three separate tweets. Meanwhile, health experts say the U.S. needs to at least double or triple its testing capacity before reopening can happen.  The United States Department of Agriculture says it will offer $16 billion in direct grants to farmers and ranchers who are struggling.

-Apr 18: People gather in front of several statehouses across the U.S. on Saturday to protest stay-at-home orders, chanting, “Let us Work!” and “Fire Fauci.” In Maryland, they make noise but don’t get out of their cars. Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner tells Bob Woodward privately that the United States is now in a “comeback phase.” He explains, “Trump’s now back in charge. It’s not the doctors.” 

-Apr 19: Governors from states that have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic dispute President Trump’s assertion that they have enough coronavirus tests to safely reopen their economies soon. Reopening protests continue, including “Operation Gridlock” in Arizona. President Trump, who was asked Sunday whether he was inciting violence by encouraging people to “liberate” their states, said that people who are calling on state governments to lift coronavirus stay-at-home orders were “good people” who have “cabin fever” and “want their life back.” *

From the Cutting Room Floor...

Dr. Erin Bromage specializes in infectious diseases and host immune responses of animals in the bio department at the UMass-Dartmouth. He’s been answering common questions about this second SARS virus, and the pandemic more generally.[1] He confirms much that I had suspected.  His posted questions also tap into the issues that people are struggling to grasp. Here’s a paraphrase of his “Where are we now?” post with some thoughts.

(1) Where did it come from? Or, rather, where didn’t it come from? This virus was not intentionally engineered; it’s not a Chinese weapon. That’s propaganda. But scientists cannot rule out at this time that the virus escaped accidentally from a lab, he says. It’s very unlikely, but there is now very circumstantial evidence for it.[2] University of North Carolina scientists and Chinese scientists collaborated on a NIH-funded project studying coronaviruses from 2014-2019. However, their published work shows too few similarities between this second SARS and the many bat coronaviruses they examined. Most likely, this was a bat-to-human zoonotic event, perhaps with a scaly pangolin host in between.[3]

(2) Did I already have COVID-19 last winter? No. Bromage rehearses the detective-story rundown of the outbreak as we know it. The first major crossover event occurred in November in or near Wuhan, but not necessarily at the seafood market.[4] The United States had a few cases but contained them and shut down travel from China by the end of January.[5] Most cases, according to him, likely derived from Europe and ran through the East Coast, not from China and the West Coast. Recent news suggests, however, that the so-called “China travel ban” let in a staggering 430,000 passengers anyway, many of whom were not screened.[6]

(3) What kind of tests are there and how do they work? There are three main kinds of tests: RT-rPCR (reverse transcriptase (RT), real-time (r), polymerase chain reaction (PCR)), a newly developed antigen test, and the serological/antibody test. The RT-rPCR test is the most commonly used one—the one that people complain about because you get a swab on the end of a long stick jammed up your nose until your brain hurts, and then they delicately smoosh that mess into a vial. They mash up your cells, sieve out the RNA and DNA, spinning out all the other cytoplasmic stuff that you learn about in AP Biology, use some reagents to boost it, and violá, you can read whether there’s some coronavirus RNA floating around in your mucus membranes. A positive result for this test is very accurate and means there’s actual SARS-CoV-2 ribonucleic acid in your body, but not necessarily that you’re sick from it yet. A negative result means … well, it could mean they messed up the sample or just did the test wrong or that the virus isn’t floating around in your nose in high enough quantities. There are rising numbers of false negatives with this RT-rPCR.[7] This scenario almost certainly led to China’s decision to switch diagnostic measures to clinical ones like chest X-rays, which, in turn, lead to China’s upward revision of cases and deaths (headlined as a “surge” instead of a change in diagnostic practice) in February.[8]

The second test, an antigen test, is much faster, less invasive, and safer for staff. But as Bromage reports, false and inconclusive results happen more often.

Finally, the serological tests see if you’ve got some coronavirus protein antibodies floating around inside of you, indicating you had a coronavirus at some point. It has an error rate of about 50%, however. Avoid making decisions based on this test, cautions Bromage.

Interestingly, a pre-print appeared on medRxiv this week (with all the caveats about pre-prints) using antibody seroprevalence sampled early this month in Santa Clara, California.[9] The Stanford and USC researchers conclude that there is a far higher infection rate than previously acknowledged. What’s more interesting is that John Ioannidis is an author in the study. Ioannidis is a modern-day legend for instigating the “replication crisis” in the social sciences. Basically, he believes most social scientific statistical work is shoddy and has spent his career trying to debunk both the methods and the conclusions. Nonetheless, a number of other scientists have taken to Twitter peer-reviewing the antibodies study—and casting serious doubt on Ioannidis’ work.[10] They are questioning his numbers and his methodology. This online version of back-street-arm-wrestling-match peer-review is both interesting and a little terrifying, given that the pre-print studies seem to be fed into the broader media at a rate correlating not with their ability to withstand review but merely with the relative celebrity of the authors and their institutions.

Back to Dr. Bromage:

(4) If I am infected, will I later be immune? We don’t know. Versions of the common cold are also caused by a coronavirus, and we don’t remain immune to that for long.

(5) Is it as bad as the flu? It’s probably much worse. Even if the much higher-than-flu mortality rate isn’t as high as it seems, it is spreading like a California forest fire through dry underbrush. His analogy is good:

[A] restaurant can serve 50,000 meals over a year, but the same restaurant can’t fulfill 50,000 orders in a week. Most orders couldn’t be fulfilled….with health care, an unfulfilled order means a death. Remember, from a flu index case, a ten-point transmission chain results in ~15 infections. While with SARS-CoV, a single index case transmission chain results in 59,000 infections [and rising].

My interpretation of Dr. Bromage’s answer to “where are we now?” is: we’re maybe starting to get into a better place. Most of us have sheltered at home, which has begun to flatten the curve. We are far from sorting out the PPE situation, the test situation, and the economic situation even in health care facilities. And just as we’re beginning to get this under control in the metropolises, it seems to be spreading to the smaller cities where people seem less willing to comply with stay at home orders.


[1] Erin Bromage, “Where We Are Now?,” Erin Bromage, Ph.D.: COVID-19 Musings, April 19, 2020,

[2] Josh Rogin, “Opinion | State Department Cables Warned of Safety Issues at Wuhan Lab Studying Bat Coronaviruses,” The Washington Post, April 14, 2020,

[3] Roujian Lu et al., “Genomic Characterisation and Epidemiology of 2019 Novel Coronavirus: Implications for Virus Origins and Receptor Binding,” The Lancet 395, no. 10224 (February 22, 2020): 565–74,

[4] Josephine Ma, “China’s First Confirmed Covid-19 Case Traced Back to November 17,” South China Morning Post, March 14, 2020,

[5] Lily Kuo, “Birth of a Pandemic: Inside the First Weeks of the Coronavirus Outbreak in Wuhan,” The Guardian, April 10, 2020,

[6] Zolan Kanno-Youngs, “Travelers From Coronavirus Hot Spots Say They Faced No Screening,” The New York Times, March 13, 2020, sec. U.S.,; Steve Eder et al., “430,000 People Have Traveled From China to U.S. Since Coronavirus Surfaced,” The New York Times, April 4, 2020,

[7] Kristin V. Brown, “False Negatives Raise Doctors’ Doubts About Coronavirus Tests,” Bloomberg.Com, April 11, 2020,

[8] Dominique Patton and David Stanway, “China’s Hubei Province Sees Surge in Coronavirus Deaths on Switch to New Methodology,” Reuters, February 13, 2020,

[9] Eran Bendavid et al., “COVID-19 Antibody Seroprevalence in Santa Clara County, California,” MedRxiv, April 30, 2020, 2020.04.14.20062463,

[10] Natalie E. Dean, “A Thread Written by @nataliexdean,”, April 18, 2020,

Read more
PBS NewsHour. WATCH: Trump, White House Coronavirus Task Force Hold Press Briefing, 2020.

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Tuomisto, Jouni T., Juha Yrjölä, Mikko Kolehmainen, Juhani Bonsdorff, Jami Pekkanen, and Tero Tikkanen. “An Agent-Based Epidemic Model REINA for COVID-19 to Identify Destructive Policies.” MedRxiv, April 17, 2020, 2020.04.09.20047498.
Bromage, Erin. “Where We Are Now?” Erin Bromage, Ph.D.: COVID-19 Musings, April 19, 2020.
Bissett, Amy Nelmes. “Elimination Policy, Business Funds, and Total Transparency: Jacinda Ardern Is Showing How to Lead a Country through Crisis | The Independent,” April 17, 2020.
Brown, Kristin V. “False Negatives Raise Doctors’ Doubts About Coronavirus Tests.” Bloomberg.Com, April 11, 2020.
Dean, Natalie E. “A Thread Written by @nataliexdean.”, April 18, 2020.
Derysh, Igor. “Conservative Group Linked to DeVos Family Organizes Protest of Coronavirus Restrictions in Michigan.” Salon, April 16, 2020.
Eder, Steve, Henry Fountain, Michael H. Keller, Muyi Xiao, and Alexandra Stevenson. “430,000 People Have Traveled From China to U.S. Since Coronavirus Surfaced.” The New York Times, April 4, 2020, sec. U.S.
Feuerstein, Adam, and Matthew Herper. “Early Peek at Data on Gilead Coronavirus Drug Suggests Patients Are Responding to Treatment,” April 16, 2020.
Hall Jamieson, Kathleen, and Dolores Albarracín. “The Relation between Media Consumption and Misinformation at the Outset of the SARS-CoV-2 Pandemic in the US.” Harvard Kennedy School Misinformation Review, April 17, 2020.
Leskin, Paige. “Staying up Late Reading Scary News? There’s a Word for That: ‘Doomscrolling.’” Business Insider, April 19, 2020.
National Public Radio, James Doubek. “Workers’ Advocate Says South Dakota Pork Plant Delayed Action On Coronavirus.”, April 17, 2020.
NEA. “As Part of COVID Relief, Cancel Student Debt.” Education Votes, April 17, 2020.
Robbins, Christopher. “NYPD Seizes Drone Of Photojournalist Documenting Mass Burials On Hart Island.” Gothamist, April 17, 2020.
Rogin, Josh. “Opinion | State Department Cables Warned of Safety Issues at Wuhan Lab Studying Bat Coronaviruses.” The Washington Post, April 14, 2020.
Wilson, Jason. “The Rightwing Groups behind Wave of Protests against Covid-19 Restrictions.” The Guardian, April 17, 2020, sec. World news.
Kuo, Lily. “Birth of a Pandemic: Inside the First Weeks of the Coronavirus Outbreak in Wuhan.” The Guardian, April 10, 2020, sec. World news.
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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.