Museum of America in the Pandemic Year, 2020

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Sunday, May 10 - Mother's Day

-May 9: Global COVID-19 cases tops 4 million. FDA issues the first emergency use authorization for a coronavirus antigen test. The test makes it possible for those who cannot get to a collection center to get tested, including those who are home because they are ill, quarantined, or at high risk of infection due to their age or comorbidities.

-May 10: The Georgia Bureau of Investigation says it is investigating threats that have been made against people who are protesting the Ahmaud Arbery slaying. The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe in South Dakota says that it will keep its checkpoints to monitor and track the coronavirus.

From the Cutting Room Floor...

I made turkey sandwiches and celery sticks, all wrapped up individually in wax paper. We meet my mom and her roommate at the park. We wave at each other from opposite sides of the pavilion, my daughters lined up awkwardly on one side of a picnic bench so that their grandmother can see them. She is too far away for real conversation. We eat our sandwiches and watch the big tugboats move down the Black Warrior River to the Gulf of Mexico.

My mom moved to a retirement facility two years ago and has been locked inside since the pandemic began. I try not to worry too much about her. She was a nurse her whole life and has a sanguine view of the virus. “When people like me die, it might be a heart attack or cancer or a virus that gets you, but really you’re just dying of old age,” she says when I tell her that I want her to stop driving herself to Aldi for groceries. My mom loves to talk about death, particularly at the dinner table.

“The quality of your death matters, mom. You know that.” I reply. She looks away and nods. “Sometimes you don’t get to choose that.”

I don’t want her to die alone in a hospital.

Her back and legs have been bad for a while now, ever since the home invasion five years ago. The young men pinned her to her couch with a pillow over her head demanding that she give them her money and her gun. “I’m Canadian,” she told them, as though somehow that would explain everything. They ransacked her house, took the $150 that she had rolled up in her freezer. They got her safe open but didn’t recognize the nearly 300 Euros that fell across the floor. When they demanded that she unlock her iPhone, she was nervous and couldn’t remember the passcode. They fired two bullets into the wall above her head to let her know they were serious. She tells me that this was when she calmly offered them a beer. They didn’t know that this wasn’t the first time my mom had been shot at.

She looks like a little old lady now, but she was a nurse in Quang Ngai during the Tet Offensive in 1968. She has pulled shrapnel out of babies. She once stole a helicopter from a bunch of drunk GIs. The men left her house disappointed, with a locked phone and $150. They would carjack one person and shoot another later that night.

After they were gone, she took the pillow off her head and hobbled over to her neighbor’s house. It was midnight. My phone was on vibrate, but the text woke me. “Your mother is okay,” it said. “You should come to her house now.” When I got there, mom was sitting quietly on the edge of her couch, the cushions ripped open and glass everywhere. She looked up at me and smiled. “It doesn’t matter if I go,” she said that night.

It might not matter to my mom how she dies, but it does to me. COVID is taking her generation right out from underneath our noses, while we are stuck in Zoom meetings. If they go to the hospital, we might not even get to say goodbye.

Just last week, my friend Chrystos informed me that the death toll was 68,932—a number that she wrote on her palm with a magic marker because she couldn’t find a piece of paper, and she wanted me to see it, to stare at that magnitude. That senseless loss. Those mothers gone like whispers while our leaders dither over mask ordinances and how hard to come down on the Shelley Luthers of the nation. Today the number is 77,734. All I can think as I bite into my sandwich is that each one of those people had to die alone. If only we had acted sooner, maybe we could have saved some of them.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Read more

Today Show, “A Special Tribute To Moms On Mother’s Day During The Coronavirus Pandemic,” NBC (May 9, 2020),

“‘Dear Mom,’ Mother’s Day 2020 Hallmark Gold Crown Commercial” Hallmark Gold Crown Stores (Apr. 16, 2020),

Stephen Colbert, “Late Show First Drafts: Mother’s Day 2020,” The Late Show with Stephen Colbert (May 7, 2020),

Selena Sykes, “Obama calls Trump’s response to Covid-19 pandemic a ‘chaotic disaster’,” France 24 – English (May 10, 2020),


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Beggin, Riley. “The White House Reportedly Suppressed CDC Guidance for Reopening Safely.” Vox, May 9, 2020.
Borel, Brooke. “To Stay Afloat in the Pandemic, Doctors’ Offices Turn to GoFundMe.” Undark Magazine, May 9, 2020.
Congressman Dave Joyce. “Joyce Highlights Dire Need to Continue Battling Opioid Crisis Amid COVID-19 Pandemic in Letter to POTUS,” May 8, 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.