Museum of America in the Pandemic Year, 2020

Pick a SPECIFIC date to explore

Apr 30: Hundreds of protesters, some legally carrying guns, crowd into Michigan’s Capitol building to demonstrate against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s (D) stay-at-home order. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) announces that there is “wide scientific consensus that the COVID-19 virus was not manmade or genetically modified.” Jobless claims in the last six weeks rise over 30 million. The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago upholds two lower court rulings blocking the Trump administration’s effort to withhold millions of dollars from so-called “sanctuary” cities and counties that limit cooperation on immigration enforcement.*

From the Cutting Room Floor...

White men with weapons are inside the capital building in Lansing, Michigan, shouting. Again. This is the third or fourth “reopening” protest this month. These guys are here to intimidate and to send a message to Governor Whitmer. It’s worth dwelling on the images emerging from this protest for a minute. In 2014, it took Cleveland police less than two seconds to shoot 12-year old Tamir Rice for holding a toy gun. Here are grown men holding assault rifles, threatening state political officials, and cops are just standing there.

Outside is its own spectacle. The crowd that has gathered on the steps of the courthouse flies the Confederate battle flag—in Michigan, where thousands of men bled to defeat that flag a century and a half ago. Two girls do a dance routine in front of the crowd, one wearing a Trump mask pantomimes defeating the other, who is wearing a Barack Obama mask and is literally in blackface. A truck parked out in front bears a gallows with a noose, “tyrants get the rope” reads its sign. When these yelling men bring their weapons into a democratic chamber, they seem to be arguing that their individual rights take priority over the needs of their community.

In the meantime, it seems like the one topic that is sure to get frantic attention from all political sides is the hunt for treatments. It makes sense that, with parts of the federal government basically ceding the field to individuals to fight the virus in their own way, people would search for any treatment, from colloidal silver to chloroquine in aquarium cleaners. This week, remdesivir is the drug making the headlines, after Dr. Fauci mentioned it in the last Whitehouse briefing. Unlike hydroxychloroquine (which is a medicine for malaria), remdesivir is actually an antiviral medication. It was administered to the original Seattle man who contracted the virus in Wuhan back in January, supposedly with good results.[1]

With a little digging, it becomes clear that redesivir has an astonishing, if not discomfiting, history. It was originally designed to combat Hepatitis C but failed in trials and was not put into production. Gilead Sciences, the California-based biotech company who owns the license for the drug, then repurposed it to fight Ebola, which it wasn’t effective against, either. Now it’s being hyped as a “cure” for coronavirus.[2]

What do we know about Remdesivir? First of all, it is in no way a cure, as even its supporters are careful to insist. It cannot stop the virus from hijacking healthy cells in your body. However, it theoretically can render those co-opted cells defective so the virus cannot spread inside your body so quickly. An early study on 125 patients at the University of Chicago Medical Center, 116 of whom were severely ill, seemed to produce positive results, with only two people dying.[3] Other small trials in the United States have shown benefits as well.[4]

But, there’s been one negative test of the drug, and it raises some serious questions.

Gilead Sciences, the California-based biotech company who owns the license for the drug, initiated two phase-3 studies in China before the outbreak started in the United States. The first study randomized around 400 very sick patients to receive either five or ten days of remdesivir. The second study took 600 patients with more moderate symptoms to receive five or ten days of the drug or not to receive the drug at all.[5] This second trial was the gold standard. Results were not encouraging, however. According to an accidentally posted report of trial #NCT0457656 by the WHO, 237 patients underwent full clinical randomization (158 given remdesivir, 79 in the control group). Remdesivir seemed to make no difference in how many patients went home from the hospital or how quickly. More worryingly, the trial had to be stopped in 18 patients, versus only four in the control group, due to extreme adverse effects. Someone deleted the findings soon after, but not before STATnews was able to get a screenshot.[6]

In the wake of those results, Gilead’s stock price, which had leaped up to $83.99/share on the positive news April 16 tanked so fast on Monday that trading had to be halted.[7] It looked for a minute like remdesivir would go the way of drugs like the anti-inflammatory sarilumab: initially promising, but not all that helpful against full blown COVID.[8] The company, of course, argued that the negative result was premature and should be thrown out. Dr. Fauci mentioned only the positive, uncontrolled American studies in yesterday’s White House CTF briefing. And even though Fauci was measured, shareholders celebrated again as the stock rocketed upward once more.

Thinking back to the men with guns in Michigan, it is not just that they are defending some notion of liberty; many also don’t believe that there is any danger. Others believe that they are strong enough to withstand any illness. And still more take a fatalistic approach that, if this doesn’t kill them, something else will. The problem with their fatalism is that it is solipsistic. They don’t acknowledge the life of the grocery store clerk with diabetes, the elderly parent, or the healthcare worker—to whom they become a mobile viral timebomb. This sentiment masks something more disturbing: that only the white, gun-toting life matters. Plus, in a pinch, their insurance (Medicaid?) will cover the hospital stay and the cost of the remdesivir.



[1] Joseph Walker, “Gilead Sciences Offers Experimental Drug for Coronavirus Treatments, Testing,” Wall Street Journal, January 31, 2020, sec. Business,

[2] Czech News Agency, “Did Czech Scientists Create the Cure for Coronavirus?,” Remix, February 5, 2020,

[3] Adam Feuerstein and Matthew Herper, “Early Peek at Data on Gilead Coronavirus Drug Suggests Patients Are Responding to Treatment,” April 16, 2020,

[4] Hank Black, “UAB Drug Remdesivir Is First to Block the COVID-19 Virus, May Become Standard of Care. Fauci ‘Optimistic.,’” WBHM 90.3, April 30, 2020,

[5] Gilead Sciences, “Gilead Sciences Initiates Two Phase 3 Studies of Investigational Antiviral Remdesivir for the Treatment of COVID-19,”, February 26, 2020,

[6] Ed Silverman, Adam Feuerstein, and Matthew Herper, “Data on Gilead’s Remdesivir Show No Benefit for Coronavirus Patients,” STAT, April 23, 2020,

[7] Claire Atkinson, “Gilead Stock Falls after Disappointing Early Trial Results for Highly Anticipated Coronavirus Treatment,” NBC News, April 23, 2020,

[8] Gina Kolata, “Arthritis Drug Did Not Help Seriously Ill Covid Patients, Early Data Shows,” The New York Times, April 27, 2020, sec. Health, 

Read more
Contributors' Voices

From Sonya Spillman, editor, mother, cancer survivor.

Today, I’m exhausted. I’m in pain. I’m dealing with a cancer diagnosis in the middle of a pandemic and this feels particularly unfair and unnecessary. All I want to do is sit down and rest. Read. Or just do nothing. But how many mothers do nothing on days where the weather is beautiful and her four kids are all outside throwing water balloons?


Plus, my husband is cleaning the gutters and the house is a mess. I should clean up. I should also do some work while everyone is outside. But I feel like if I don’t sit down right this minute I will either collapse or burst into tears. I used to get mad, yell at the kids or my husband, but I’m too tired to yell these days. I just shrug my shoulders now, detach, and that scares me a little.


I’ve read that this pandemic is a collective trauma, and this explains why so many of us feel overwhelmed and scattered. Most days, on good days, I believe this. But there are days like today where I feel like I’m the only one — the only one tired, the only one spinning in circles, the only scared, the only one putting their once pressing passion projects on indefinite hold in order to do the barest minimum to keep my family’s train on its tracks. 


I used to stay at home during the week and work nights on the weekend as an ICU nurse. But for the last few years, I’ve been a stay at home mom with very flexible freelance writing work. So this past fall, when the youngest of my four kids started kindergarten, I was thrilled to have some extended time to myself for the first time in thirteen years. I started plugging away at a manuscript and began a book proposal.


But all that seems so far away right now. Like a dream. Another life. A joke almost.


This shouldn’t sound like such a burden — taking care of my kids while my husband works behind a closed door in our basement office — but it is. This was supposed to be the year I could finally accomplish something for me. Now, I’m just trying to get through it.


I already had my diagnosis when my kids stopped school suddenly in March. And they seem to be doing okay. My husband and I keep checking in with them. “It’s normal now,” my teenager says, nearly seven weeks after their last day. Their school, in one of the largest school systems in the nation, took over five weeks to get their IT and learning platforms up to speed. (There was a scathing Washington Post article about their failures). But I didn’t care. The last thing I wanted to do before and after a breast cancer surgery was have to monitor four virtual classrooms.


Before my kids school figured out their issues, before I found out the hospitals would indefinitely postpone all elective surgeries, allowing my surgical date to be moved up, the kids did whatever they wanted that wasn’t dangerous or involved me. I stayed glued to my phone. I would watch the press briefings, rotate through articles from the NYT, Washington Post, CNN, BBC, the Atlantic, then go visit Facebook and see what people were saying there. Then I’d start the cycle all over again. It felt like if I could just know enough, I’d be able to handle all of this.


Then after my surgery, I ignored the news, social media, my conservative christian friends — I did nothing except the precious work of resting and restoring my body to health. It’s like I could only pay attention to the pandemic or my cancer.


But not anymore.

Neither has resolved.


Earlier this week, I sat on the floor of my bedroom in grey pajamas, leaning against a dresser in a virtual waiting room. It’s not comfortable, but it’s the only spot in the house with a good wifi signal, good lighting, and is behind a locked door. In this telemedicine appointment, I consulted with a medical oncologist who went over my pathology reports and recommended a double mastectomy.


My neighbor’s father died of Covid-19. One of my friend’s husbands lost his job in the second week of the shut-downs. I am losing my breasts. The stories don’t end there.


I walk through my days weighed down with what’s happening in the big world and what’s going to happen in our immediate world. I carry the unknown of the pandemic in the middle of all the rest of the unknown with my health.


Every day, I face mortality two fold. 


Gilson, Dave, Laura Thompson, and Clara Jeffery. “A Timeline of Trump’s 100 Days of Deadly Coronavirus Denial.” Mother Jones (blog), April 29, 2020.

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

Gilson, Dave, Laura Thompson, and Clara Jeffery. “A Timeline of Trump’s 100 Days of Deadly Coronavirus Denial.” Mother Jones (blog), April 29, 2020.
Perez, Matt. “Trump Implies That The Coronavirus Will Be ‘Eradicated’ Without A Vaccine.” Forbes, April 29, 2020.
Social Media
Additional Links
  • Dunn, Caroline G., Erica Kenney, Sheila E. Fleischhacker, and Sara N. Bleich. “Feeding Low-Income Children during the Covid-19 Pandemic.” New England Journal of Medicine 382, no. 18 (April 30, 2020): e40.
  • Lagi, Filippo, Matteo Piccica, Lucia Graziani, Iacopo Vellere, Annarita Botta, Marta Tilli, Letizia Ottino, et al. “Early Experience of an Infectious and Tropical Diseases Unit during the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Pandemic, Florence, Italy, February to March 2020.” Euro Surveillance: Bulletin Europeen Sur Les Maladies Transmissibles = European Communicable Disease Bulletin 25, no. 17 (April 30, 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.