Museum of America in the Pandemic Year, 2020

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Dec 4: The U.S. hits a daily death record. Judge Nicholas Garaufis directs the Trump administration to fully restore the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA) program. House Speaker Pelosi promises Congress will not leave until another coronavirus relief bill has been passed. Trump suffers election-related legal defeats in 6 states. The CDC urges the use of masks universally indoors.

Dec 5: Trump claims election fraud at a Georgia rally. President Trump calls Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) and requests that he call a special session of the state legislature to get lawmakers to override the presidential election results and appoint electors to vote for him instead of President-elect Joe Biden. Kemp declines. 

Dec 6: Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) refuses President Trump’s call for a special legislative session to overturn President-elect Joe Biden’s victory in the state, saying it would amount to “nullifying the will of the people.” Studies show that students are falling behind in their classes, which are online. 

Dec 7: Britain starts mass vaccinations. Fauci warns that things are likely to get “really bad” after the holidays. Georgia recertifies Biden’s victory. Florida state police raid the Tallahassee home of the former Department of Health data scientist Rebekah Jones, who says she was fired for refusing to manipulate COVID-19 data.

Dec 8: The post-Thanksgiving COVID surge has begun. Trump says the Whitehouse Christmas parties will continue as planned. Arizona and Pennsylvania move towards accepting Biden’s victory.

Dec 9: More than 3,000 deaths today, another single day record. The House averts a government shutdown. News breaks that 14 designated hate groups received PPP employee relief funds last spring. Elon Musk’s private SpaceX Starship crashes and burns.

From the Cutting Room Floor ...

The first “shot heard ‘round the world” occurred 245 years ago when American militia fired on British forces in Massachusetts. The second occurred today, when the British successfully won the vaccine race. They’ve begun to administer the Pfizer-BioNTech version of the coronavirus shot to elderly patients and healthcare workers. “Super-gran” Margaret Keenan, age 90, was the first participant to receive an injection who was not involved in the original trials.[1] But the news has been especially abuzz because the following recipient—the third “shot heard ‘round the world”—was an honest-to-goodness William Shakespeare, the Bard’s 81-year-old namesake, also from Warwickshire. British journalists, corked up from fresh lockdown orders and completely unable to resist a good pun, had fun all day.[2] 

So, the vaccine is coming! The vaccine is coming!

Notably, it has now become clear that the behavior of Americans this year does not match that the WHO predicted with its pandemic “phases.”[3] Nor does the “dramaturgical” scripting of disease progression highlighted by historians like Charles Rosenberg seem to hold up. So many Americans seem not to believe that simple public health measures should apply to them, and, just as predicted by those who study cognitive dissonance (see March 6), rationalize to themselves why coronavirus doesn’t matter—until it does. It could be why Artificial Intelligence-assisted predictions from earlier in the year that calculated the pandemic would be over by now did not pan out.[4] Instead of a rise and fall, with smaller “aftershocks,” the US experienced a burst, a plateau, a second peak, a second plateau, and then this third surge. No single peak, no real decline; just plateaus of disease and death, soon topped.

The vaccine is coming. It might be a long time until most of us have our turn to receive it, but it is coming. In the meantime, the CDC has drawn up a plan to distribute the vaccine that requires vaccine administrators to sign a data use agreement that shares the names, birthdates, and addresses of vaccine recipients. Some places are skeptical. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, for instance, balked at the request: “It’s another example of them trying to extort the State of New York to get information that they can use at the Department of Homeland Security and ICE that they’ll use to deport people.” It might make people afraid to get the vaccine in the first place.[5] Moreover, just like we saw earlier in the pandemic over PPE, state governments fear that they will end up competing against each other and other countries for vaccines.[6] Still, shipping companies, including airlines, are getting ready to distribute quickly, even changing rules on how much dry ice can be in the plane.[7] Of course, we know there are likely to be distribution problems. Julie Swann, head of the industrial and systems engineering department at North Carolina State University and a health care supply chain expert, stresses that the goal will be to “distribute some 510 million doses.” By comparison, during the H1N1 pandemic in 2009-20, the US moved around 10 million doses per week, maximum, and ultimately injected 80 million doses.[8] This time is unprecedented. The bottlenecks we will see are in glass, syringes, and the enormous amounts of dry ice we will need. And that’s before we get to the challenges of having enough healthcare workers to distribute the vaccines fairly and broadly.[9]

So, the vaccine is coming. But first we have to get through the winter.




[1] Martin Bagot and Martin Fricker, “‘Super-Gran’ Margaret Keenan’s Coronavirus Jab Sets UK on Road to Normality,” Mirror, December 8, 2020,

[2] “Shakespeare Gets Covid Vaccine: All’s Well That Ends Well,” BBC News, December 8, 2020, sec. UK,

[3] World Health Organization, THE WHO PANDEMIC PHASES, Pandemic Influenza Preparedness and Response: A WHO Guidance Document (Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization, 2009),

[4] Thomas Macaulay, “AI Model Predicts the Coronavirus Pandemic Will End in December,” Neural, April 29, 2020,

[5] Centers for Disease Control, “Data Use and Sharing Agreement to Support the United States Government’s COVID-19 Emergency Response, Jurisdiction Immunization and Vaccine Administration Data Agreement,” December 2020,; Sheryl Gay Stolberg, “Some States Balk After C.D.C. Asks for Personal Data of Those Vaccinated,” The New York Times, December 8, 2020,

[6] Sarah Owermohle, “U.S. Could Face Months of Vaccine Shortages amid Global Competition,” Politico, December 8, 2020,

[7] Jessica Wehrman, “Shipping Networks Prep for COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution,” Roll Call, December 9, 2020,

[8] CDC, “CDC Novel H1N1 Flu — The 2009 H1N1 Pandemic: Summary Highlights, April 2009-April 2010,” June 16, 2010,

[9] Rebecca Heilweil, “How Quickly Can the US Distribute a Covid-19 Vaccine? Here Are the Four Biggest Logistical Challenges.,” Vox, December 7, 2020,

Read more

Catherine Burns, “Woman, 90, first to receive Covid vaccine in UK rollout,” BBC News, December 8, 2020,

Extra History, “History of Vaccines – Killing Smallpox,” Extra Credit, December 19, 2019,

“To jab or not to jab? William Shakespeare gets vaccine,” Reuters, December 8, 2020,

Kaste, Martin, and Brandt Williams. “Police Departments Try To Walk The Line Between Reform, Public Safety.” NPR, December 9, 2020.

Rosenthal, Elisabeth. “It’s Time to Scare People About COVID.” Kaiser Health News (blog), December 9, 2020.

AP Staff. “Hospitals Desperate to Hire Nurses and Doctors amid Pandemic Surge.” CBS News, December 3, 2020.

Khazan, Olga. “Americans Aren’t Actually Quarantining.” The Atlantic, December 8, 2020.

Neergaard, Lauran, and Matthew Perrone. “US Panel Endorses Widespread Use of Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccine.” AP NEWS, December 10, 2020.

Sorkin, Amy Davidson. “What We Know About Pfizer’s COVID-19 Vaccine.” The New Yorker, December 11, 2020.

Heilweil, Rebecca. “How Quickly Can the US Distribute a Covid-19 Vaccine? Here Are the Four Biggest Logistical Challenges.” Vox, December 7, 2020.

Owermohle, Sarah. “U.S. Could Face Months of Vaccine Shortages amid Global Competition.” POLITICO, December 8, 2020.

Bagot, Martin, and Martin Fricker. “‘Super-Gran’ Margaret Keenan’s Coronavirus Jab Sets UK on Road to Normality.” Mirror, December 8, 2020.

“Shakespeare Gets Covid Vaccine: All’s Well That Ends Well.” BBC News, December 8, 2020, sec. UK.

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