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Museum of America in the Pandemic Year, 2020

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May 6: Trump reverses course and says that Coronavirus Task Force will continue indefinitely.  News breaks on Axios that President Trump and some of his aides believe the estimated COVID-19 death toll is inflatedMichigan Republican lawmakers file a lawsuit against Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer to force her to reopen the state.*

From the cutting room floor...

Today, I was standing in the frozen foods aisle of the grocery store between the garlic bread and the ice cream, when two men approached me without masks on. They were just looking for frozen biscuits, but I panicked and climbed entirely into the freezer to avoid them. They laughed at me as I crouched there, actually pointing their fingers and chuckling while I pushed against the Jimmy Dean sausages and the garlic knots. I made an effort not to look at them, as though this was something I do all the time. I feel like I’m justified, though: 2,701 people died, just today, from this virus.

Things are happening so fast now, trying to follow the daily crises is like standing in front of a broken fire hydrant. I am experiencing this astonishing phenomenon where the immediate world around me, my house, the store, is unchanging, and yet it feels like I am simultaneously moving at light speed from one breathtaking moment to the next. It is similar to the feeling of being lost in a great book, when everything is silent around you save the hum of the air conditioner, and at the same time, everything is raging in the story that is unfolding in your hands. I learned to feel this from my father, who read Rudyard Kipling, Jules Verne, and Aesop’s Fables to me every night as a child. He would haul me onto his shoulders, like a fireman saving someone from a blaze, and lug me up the stairs to my room at bedtime. “I am the cat that walks by myself, and all places are alike to me!” I would yell, excited for the escape that the night’s story would provide.

For instance, the flood of things that happened today include:

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments over an audio stream for the first time in history today (the highlight, because we’re all still middle schoolers deep down, was the “flush heard ‘round the world,” when someone used the loo right in the middle of arguments).[1]

Coronavirus has now killed an immigrant at the Otey Mesa Detention Center in San Diego, which is owned by a for-profit prison contractor named CoreCivic and subcontracted to ICE.[2] The worry is that institutional detainment is likely to kill thousands and we may not even know about it.

Scientists found evidence that the virus circulated the globe much earlier than we previously believed. SARS-CoV-2 mutates quickly, though in the range typical of RNA viruses. Thankfully, there’s no indication that the mutations tracked to date make it any more communicable or any more lethal. They’re probably not even different ‘breeds’ of SARS-CoV-2 yet.[3] Still, mutations leave a ‘fingerprint’—a trace of when a virus changed, then spread, then changed, then spread some more. Because scientists in Wuhan and elsewhere in China sequenced the genome of this virus so quickly, and then shared their findings right away, and because other laboratories jumped on this new info to sequence and compare their data—over 11,000 samples to compare, in fact—we now have a more complete picture of the path taken by this coronavirus than we have of any previous pandemic.

After examining the viral RNA of over 7,500 samples, researchers in London suggest the new coronavirus crossed from its animal host into a human sometime in the fall of 2019. This finding comports with all of the earlier ones; no surprise there. SARS-CoV-2 rocketed around the globe soon thereafter, likely before anyone really noticed it. And the finding that is a bit surprising is that coronavirus mutated several times as it crossed Asia, Europe, and North America, crisscrossing its own path. At present, the virus found inside each country reflects the mutation paths of SARS-CoV-2 across the globe. What this means is that each region had multiple introductions, multiple networks of transmission. We aren’t going to find a ‘patient zero’ for each country. Every nation is full of carriers of multiple strains, multiple pockets of infection.[4]

This means, of course, that our novel coronavirus did not travel a straightforward path from Wuhan to Seattle or from China to Italy to New York. Those White House initiated travel bans, first against flights directly from Wuhan, then against China entirely, proved to be too little, too late, and directed only against the obvious rival of a different race. In February, while individuals from China were held in detention, hundreds or thousands of spreaders from Europe and elsewhere landed in JFK and Newark and Boston and Charlotte and Atlanta.

What spreads on social media, however, is not coronavirus related at all. Instead today, in one corner of the internet, you see the a rapidly growing “I Run With Maud” coalition calling for justice for Ahmaud Arbury. It’s designed to be an uplifting way to show solidarity by running 2.23 miles on his birthday, this Friday (5/8).[5] The distance 2.23 miles corresponds with February 23rd, the day the McMichael family murdered Arbury.

In a very different corner of the internet, there’s this “Plandemic” conspiracy theory, which is the third most popular search term on Google today. The anti-vax book it’s based on has rocketed to the top of Amazon’s bestseller list. Conspiracy theories about how government is out to take things from you or make you do things you don’t want to do are big money-makers, I guess. Media theorist and all around wise man Neil Postman once argued that we were all afraid of Orwell’s post-World War II dystopia wherein the government takes things from you and criminalizes even your thoughts. Yet, all along Aldous Huxley’s pre-War dystopia where we willingly choose to be vapid, drug-addled, entertainment addicts was the more prescient.

Notes

[1] NBC News, Listen: Toilet Flushes As Supreme Court Holds Oral Arguments By Teleconference (NBC News, 2020), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xB0bUtTvdCU.

[2] CoreCivic, “Otay Mesa Detention Center,” accessed May 6, 2020, https://www.corecivic.com/facilities/otay-mesa-detention-center. Hamed Aleaziz and Adolfo Flores, “An Immigrant Who Tested Positive for The Coronavirus Has Died In ICE Custody,” BuzzFeed News, May 6, 2020, https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/hamedaleaziz/ice-detainee-dies-coronavirus-otay-mesa.

[3] Bethany Dearlove et al., “A SARS-CoV-2 Vaccine Candidate Would Likely Match All Currently Circulating Strains,” BioRxiv, April 27, 2020, 2020.04.27.064774, https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.04.27.064774.

[4] Lucy van Dorp et al., “Emergence of Genomic Diversity and Recurrent Mutations in SARS-CoV-2,” Infection, Genetics and Evolution, May 5, 2020, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.meegid.2020.104351.

[5] Akeem Baker, “I RUN WITH MAUD,” Facebook, May 6, 2020, https://www.facebook.com/irunwithmaud/posts/126475382350782.

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Videos
NBC News. Listen: Toilet Flushes As Supreme Court Holds Oral Arguments By Teleconference. NBC News, 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xB0bUtTvdCU.
Documents

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Dorp, Lucy van, Mislav Acman, Damien Richard, Liam P. Shaw, Charlotte E. Ford, Louise Ormond, Christopher J. Owen, et al. “Emergence of Genomic Diversity and Recurrent Mutations in SARS-CoV-2.” Infection, Genetics and Evolution, May 5, 2020. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.meegid.2020.104351.
Nash, Tammye. “Dallas City Councilman Omar Narvaez, District Judges Respond to Paxton Letter.” Dallas Voice, May 6, 2020. https://dallasvoice.com/dallas-city-councilman-omar-narvaez-district-judges-respond-to-paxton-letter/.
Esper, Frank, Eugene D Shapiro, Carla Weibel, David Ferguson, Marie L Landry, and Jeffrey S Kahn. “Association between a Novel Human Coronavirus and Kawasaki Disease.” Journal of Infectious Diseases 191 (February 15, 2005): 499–502. https://academic.oup.com/jid/article/191/4/499/937208.

@davidmcswane, N95 goose chase tweets (May 6, 2020), https://threadreaderapp.com/thread/1258035535936921601.html

Social Media
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 (https://www.ajmc.com/view/a-timeline-of-covid19-developments-in-2020), the Just Security Group at the NYU School of Law (https://www.justsecurity.org/69650/timeline-of-the-coronavirus-pandemic-and-u-s-response/), the “10 Things,” daily entries from The Week (theweek.com), as well as a variety of newspapers and television programs.

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