Museum of America in the Pandemic Year, 2020

Pick a SPECIFIC date to explore

-May 22: Researchers publish a multinational study of the use of hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine and its use as treatment for COVID-19, concluding that the use of the drug is associated with an increased risk of significant and sudden heart arrhythmias and that they were unable to confirm a benefit for using the drug on hospitalized COVID-19 patients. The CDC releases a set of guidance on the CDC website encouraging religious communities to “consider suspending or at least decreasing use of choir/musical ensembles and congregant singing, chanting, or reciting during services or other programming, if appropriate within the faith tradition. … The act of singing may contribute to transmission of Covid-19, possibly through emission of aerosols.” Trump declares places of worship ‘essential’ and demands governors let them reopen

-May 23: The CDC releases an updated version of the guidance that omits the risks of choir transmission and adds that the guidance “is not intended to infringe on rights protected by the First Amendment.” As reported by the Washington Post, the original guidance had not been approved by the White House, 

From the cutting room floor...

Harvard historian of medicine Charles Rosenberg made the argument years ago that epidemics happen in three acts.


As recently as the 1950 polio epidemic, governments enforced public health measures more rigorously with the poor and with minority populations than with the wealthy. All signs point to this again being the case.

No doubt, everyone is expected to maintain social distance, wear masks, and disinfect surfaces. But there are certain classes who have to do it far less than others. Just as in every past epidemic going back to the Decameron, those with the means to, flee. New Yorkers to the Atlantic coast of Florida; Ohioans and Pennsylvanians to the Gulf coast of Florida; Michiganders to Petoskey and Tawas Bay (until Governor Whitmer stopped them).[1] When they don’t flee, they have their food delivered. They have the money, time, and space to maintain social distancing, afford the hygiene, and work from home. They lament the fact that the poor “essential” workers must expose themselves to the coronavirus to keep working. But it remains an abstract, distant worry in May, much like the news of the Chinese getting sick across the sea was abstract, distant in January.

Looking back at the last few months, it seems the United States has passed through Acts One, Two, and Three. There was a period of denial that happened sometime between late January (“the flu is worse,” “Xi has it under control”) and early March (“coronavirus is a hoax”). There was a second period of explaining the virus and laying blame (“Chinese virus”). Act Three has been the longest period, which began with panic hording (Hamsterkauf) in early March and an ending that will arguably change depending on who you ask.

One way to get at this question of periodization is perhaps to look at the information seeking behaviors of Americans in the last year. Include in the images (below) is a graph of Google searches for the term “coronavirus” in Google over the past 5 months.

Searches peaked on March 14 and then fell off. Americans know, however, that this was when the story started for many. This was the week when schools and workplaces closed. The furloughs began while the stock market reeled.

It seems counterintuitive that searches for the virus would slow, since the menace of coronavirus only grew through March and April. Some of the drop-off had to do with people searching for “COVID” instead of “coronavirus,” as our terminology shifted. It may also have been related to the kind of information people sought. By mid-March, most knew what it is. When SARS-CoV-2 became real—refrigerated trucks parked outside hospitals in Queens and mass graves yawned open on Hart’s Island, when closures meant that CARES Act stimulus checks made the difference between having food and shelter and not—that is, when people started searching for how to live with this virus, the search terms changed.

Rosenberg also says that “epidemics ordinarily end with a whimper, not a bang.”[2] The sincere hope is that this will apply to the United States in 2020. On the one hand, it appears that cases are dropping nationally. On the other hand, daily cases now climb in twenty-four states.[3] Some hopeful signs. But something tells me we aren’t yet out of the woods with this virus. 

Nevertheless, this weekend all across the United States stores are opening. And, as I can smell out my window, the Memorial Day barbecues and pool parties are just firing up.


[1] Lee DeVito, “Cellphone Data Shows Protesters Dispersed across Michigan, Raising Concerns of Spreading Coronavirus,” Detroit Metro Times, May 4, 2020,; Kevin Quealy, “The Richest Neighborhoods Emptied Out Most as Coronavirus Hit New York City,” May 15, 2020,

[2] Rosenberg, “What Is an Epidemic?,” 8.

[3] H Juliette Unwin, Swapnil Mishra, Valerie C Bradley et al. State-level tracking of COVID-19 in the United States (21-05-2020), doi:

Read more

Law & Crime Now with Jesse Weber, The Man who Filmed Ahmaud Arbery’s Murder Arrested & Charged of Murder, May 22, 2020.

 Roland S. Martin, “Man Who Recorded The Fatal Shooting Of Ahmaud Arbery Arrested, Charged With Murder,” Roland Martin Unfiltered, May 21, 2020,

“GBI press conference on 3rd arrest in Ahmaud Arbery case,” WJCL News ABC 22 Savannah, May 22, 2020,

Vice News, Watch A ‘Murder Hornet’ Destroy An Entire Honeybee Hive, May 20, 2020.

Brave Wilderness, “Murder Hornet Madness! Ten Things You NEED to Know ,” May 5, 2020.

Joe Boggs, “Asian Giant Hornet, aka the ‘Murder Hornet’,” Ohio State News (May 22, 2020),


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

Rosenberg, Charles E. “What Is an Epidemic? AIDS in Historical Perspective.” Daedalus 118, no. 2 (1989): 1–17,
Bourouiba, Lydia. “Turbulent Gas Clouds and Respiratory Pathogen Emissions: Potential Implications for Reducing Transmission of COVID-19.” JAMA 323, no. 18 (May 12, 2020): 1837–38.
Cohn, Samuel K. “Pandemics: Waves of Disease, Waves of Hate from the Plague of Athens to A.I.D.S.” Historical Journal (Cambridge, England) 85, no. 230 (November 1, 2012): 535–55.
Comcast. “COVID-19 TV Habits Suggest The Days Are Blurring Together.” NBC Comcast, May 6, 2020.
Shapiro, Matt. “A Long One About The Florida Data Scandal.” Marginally Compelling, May 22, 2020.
Brewer, Graham Lee. “American Violence in the Time of Coronavirus.” High Country News, May 22, 2020.
Cohen, Jon. “‘The House Was on Fire.’ Top Chinese Virologist on How China and U.S. Have Met the Pandemic.” Science, May 22, 2020.
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 (, 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.