Museum of America in the Pandemic Year, 2020

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May 27: U.S. Death toll hits 100,000. Protests continue over George Floyd’s death, spreading across the U.S.

At some point this week, one hundred thousand Americans will be dead of this new pathogen. 
Coming to terms with this number is not just an intellectual exercise. I say this as a historian and as a citizen of this country living in the American South. If we don’t reckon with this staggering number, if we don’t for a split second allow ourselves to stand open-eyed before the enormity of each life lost, then we lose our ability to act in ways that will stop it. 

Though numbers seemed to be declining for a bit, COVID cases in Alabama are up 50% from last week. Whole counties here have no hospitals, and what hospitals there are, are filling. ICU beds are in short supply. There never were enough nurses and doctors, but now they are so pinched that we cannot provide the most basic care to the sick. 

At the same time, people on the streets are not wearing masks and believe that maintaining social distancing is a joke. Indeed, masks—once the most precious of resources such that we were stitching them for healthcare workers—are thoroughly politicized now. It seems as though mask-mockers have closed themselves off to the horrifying fact that each one of those numbers of dead is a real person whose life was just as complex and amazing, just as full of dreams and desires, as their own. Each one of those numbers was once a child who had a mother that loved them. Each of the 100,000 deaths is a tragic, senseless loss. This is what the New York Times was trying to impress with its cover page.

But of course, most of the people outside of the major coastal urban centers do not read the New York Times. 

To me, it feels like the “all of these deaths are so tragic” platitudes that one hears from the government are doing more harm than good. What would it mean, instead, if each government official, before standing to make a speech, gave a two-minute eulogy to any one of the dead? Maybe folks would see their sister, their father, or themselves, in the dead. Maybe they would count their blessings and put on their damn mask.  


Gary Tuchman, “CNN reporter debunks Alabama beachgoers’ Covid 19 theories,” Anderson Cooper 360, CNN, May 26, 2020.

The Lincoln Project, “100,000 dead Americans. One wrong president.” May 26, 2020,


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Cohen, Seth. “Golfing As The U.S. Mourns 100,000 Dead? Trump’s Ugly Memorial Day Message.” Forbes, May 23, 2020.–the-presidents-ugly-memorial-day-message/.
Biden, Dr Jill. “A Prayer for a Hundred Thousand Dead.” Medium, May 27, 2020.
Social Media

Nathan Scherer, Facebook, May 27, 2020.

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.