Museum of America in the Pandemic Year, 2020

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Jun 25: The United States confirms more than two million cases of COVID-19, but the true number might be about ten times higher, the CDC says. “Our best estimate right now is that for every case that’s reported, there actually are 10 other infections,” says Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Polls show that Biden is leading in the polls in 6 battleground states.  The House of Representatives passes a police overhaul bill named for George Floyd that would ban chokeholds, prohibit some no-knock warrants, and create a national database to track officer misconduct. Republicans in the Senate signal no cooperation.

Jun 26: For the first time in 2 months, the White House Coronavirus Task Force holds a briefing. The focus of the discussion is the rising number of cases and growing positive test rate in some states. As cases rise, Texas and Florida both decide to halt business and public space reopenings as each state records growing numbers of cases. Whole Foods workers are sent home for wearing Black Lives Matter face masks.*

From the cutting room floor...

The pushback against mask wearing continues unabated. I should not be surprised. Naïvely, I thought this second wave of infections would change people’s minds.

The vociferousness of rejecting masks to keep oneself and one’s friends and family from being exposed to illness seems to be unique to this nation, although not to this time. During the 1918-1919 influenza epidemic, for instance, the American Red Cross labeled any anti-masker a “dangerous slacker.” And it seems that, for the most part, people complied with mask-wearing laws. However, there were groups like the 4,000-5,000 strong Anti-Mask League in San Francisco. Members from the business community, much like now, claimed that masks would hurt commerce and slow economic recovery. Given that the pandemic happened at the height of the first Red Scare, others declared that the laws represented a slippery slope toward communism, something that also seems to be bubbling up again though we are, unbelievably, decades after the end of the Cold War specter of communism.

Current arguments against mask-wearing undoubtedly borrow from these old tropes, but there are some worrying differences. People in many more locations seem to be opposing even masks now, as well as social-distancing, business and school closures, like before.

I am actually, at this moment, stuck in an collective argument with an anti-masker on my neighborhood email listserv and am astonished to see how he lays out his argument, how little any appeal to a common good seems to matter to him, and what these posts might portend about the state of our nation.

First, he argues that mask wearing is medically unsafe:

They are literally trying to poison us to death with our own CO2. Very dangerous for our city. They’ve gotten their “science” worshippers on the mask train and they want it everywhere all the time. Every man, woman, and child must show their submission.

I and others respond that there is no risk of being poisoned by your own CO2, that medical professionals wear masks all day with no adverse health effects, and that the dismissal of scientific evidence in America is reflective of a deep crisis in our society.

Next, he makes the argument that keeping the masks off would build herd immunity.

The Dean of Disability Services at our University (who happens to live in this neighborhood) replies that herd immunity only works if it is done safely, while reducing the risk of infection to those who will die from the virus. He reminds his interlocutor that allowing a disease to simply spread unchecked, unresisted, unmanaged can be catastrophic, which is why we as an American society did not let that happen during the Polio pandemic of the 1950s. “The price in terms of death was far too high,” he says.

Another neighbor steps in to make the point that we need to wear the masks so that the schools can reopen and our kids can be safe. The anti-masker responds with a triple argument. First, that the “kids can’t get sick.” Second, that “it’s God’s Will.” And third, that the whole pandemic is a “liberal conspiracy.”

JJ and Jet [the anti-masker’s children] will be fine. Trump said at his Tulsa rally that kids have very strong immune systems that protects from the virus. That is why it is safe to open school in the fall. Have faith in the Lord to protect you, don’t live in fear! I trust our God and he placed Trump here at this time to protect us… The American people are being controlled by the one world order groups and the billionaires in the left wing media. And we have swallowed it hook, line and sinker. We are not guaranteed one day on this earth. I say we should put our faith in the almighty instead of some self serving politicians and their controlling elites. Promotion of Fear. Promotion of Helplessness. Posing Government as a ‘Savior’ greater than God. Calls for global government. I have great faith the Lord will protect his believers from this virus IF YOU TRUST him. We are not in control but he is!

In the next comment, when a healthcare provider who works at a clinic just down the street writes of the overflowing ICU at the city hospital, he replies,

You have probably just seen bad cases flu and pneumonia. I have never witnessed anyone with this disease. Sorry you have been misled by the liberal mainstream media. It happens… It is matter of freedom. If someone feels that they are in an at risk category then I feel they should wear a mask but if others feel like the shouldn’t then I think they have that right. Mandating that to me is like doing away with the bill of rights [sic] which for some of you would probably think that’s a good idea. Haven’t y’all had enough of this?

In the place of scientific expertise, this person cites Trump as an authority ordained by God. He sees mask-wearing as a part of a larger liberal hoax constructed to control the population (to do what, exactly?). 

Perhaps most riveting is the profound nihilism of this person who is likewise urging the rest of us toward some sort of faith. There is a resignation here to the inevitability of death and to all our sound and fury signifying nothing. No “love your neighbor as yourself” appears anywhere in here. This could have been a treatise by Schopenhauer if it were written with a better sense of irony.

Perhaps, on some deep level, people like this already feel like puppets on strings. They’re angry at a world that doesn’t make sense anymore, in which they don’t feel like they have enough power. They say they are resigned to the decisions of a higher power, whether that is the Judeo-Christian-Capitalist God or his erstwhile emissary, Donald J. Trump. But 122,000 people have died. These were good people who all sat at the center of their own life’s drama, who were forced to face death alone and scared, whose families are now broken. They had holidays and laughter and beautiful sunsets still to see. Their deaths were unnecessary, tragic, preventable. I cannot accept this callousness would be blessed by the same loving God this individual purports to follow. Sounds more like someone just doesn’t give a crap about the rest of us.

Locally, it seems like our leaders are starting to take the steps that our federal government refused. Last week, in Montgomery, Alabama, when the city council voted against a mask ordinance, the Mayor eventually decided to pass it as an executive order. Today, as Florida reports 9,000(?!) new cases in the last 24 hours, the state’s famously conservative Republican governor has issued an executive order reinstating restrictions on bars, restaurants, and outdoor activities.

Read more


“Refusal to wear face masks triggers crackdowns,” Good Morning America, ABC, June 26, 2020.


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Francisco, Noel J, and Joseph H Hunt. California et al. v. Texas et al. & Texas et al. v. California et al., No. 19-840 & 19-1019 (Supreme Court of the United States June 25, 2020).

Legasse, Jeff. “Trump Administration Asks Supreme Court to End Affordable Care Act as COVID-19 Cases Rise.” Healthcare Finance News, June 26, 2020.
Pence, Michael R. “There Isn’t a Coronavirus ‘Second Wave.’” The White House, June 16, 2020.
Dorsett, Maia. “Point of No Return: COVID-19 and the U.S. Healthcare System: An Emergency Physician’s Perspective.” Science Advances 6, no. 26 (June 26, 2020): eabc5354.
Hutzell, Rick. “Co-Founder of ReOpen Maryland Says He Has COVID-19, but Won’t Help Contact Tracing Efforts.” Capital Gazette [Annapolis, MD], June 26, 2020.
Kelety, Josh. “‘It Was Like a Hunt to Them’: Lawsuits Filed Over Phoenix Cops’ Protest Crackdown.” Phoenix New Times, June 26, 2020.
The White House. “Executive Order on Protecting American Monuments, Memorials, and Statues and Combating Recent Criminal Violence.” The White House, June 26, 2020.
Fluxman, Dr Jonathan. “Its Not Only about Social Distancing: The Importance of Airborne Spread of Covid-19.”, June 14, 2020. [Europeans grasped the importance of masks and ventilation before the US]
Additional 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.