Museum of America in the Pandemic Year, 2020

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Dec 10: An FDA advisory panel endorses the first COVID-19 vaccine. Another single day record of covid deaths. 

From the Cutting Room Floor...

As if we needed more confirmation of the bifurcating experience of 2020, indicators today show that the economy looks very bad for large numbers workers, while it is actually better for the already wealthy than it was before coronavirus hit the country. According to recent surveys, around 40% of Americans experienced an income disruption during the last nine months.[1] We saw during the summer that income was a predictor of COVID health outcomes, so an income disruption could indicate a more precarious health position as well.[2] After months of slow and very uneven job recovery, unemployment is creeping back up. Another 947,500 (not seasonally adjusted) just initial unemployment claims. That brings the total number of Americans receiving government support of one kind or another to over 19 million people. Both of these numbers are well above what was predicted, and they’re staggeringly high. Last year, during the same week all programs resulted in a benefit dispersal of 1.5 million. More than twelve times the number of Americans as usual require assistance this holiday season.[3]

Sadly, Republicans have not pivoted from the election to help the unemployed. The party continues even now to fight the Biden/Harris election, with over 120 GOP representatives signing on to a frivolous Texas lawsuit to overturn the election.[4]

People like Frank Slootman of the company Snowflake, by contrast, are making $100 million per month during this pandemic. “The stock is worth what someone wants to pay for it,” he says, nonchalantly. He might not be wrong, but of course you already have to have means to get to the place where you are able to reap returns. The rich get richer. No matter how hard most of us work, we will not get to exchange our time and labor to accumulate this kind of money.[5] Lest Slootman be unfairly singled out, this year has boomed for the wealthiest investors almost across the board, with those who were already billionaires making out like bandits.[6]

Today, the US hit its second day of over 200,000 cases, 100,000 hospitalizations, and 3,000 deaths. As it currently stands, we are experiencing a 9/11/01 event every day. The president of this country is absent. When he does emerge, he talks only of how “rigged” the election was against him. But he refuses to take steps to comfort the afflicted or reassure the country, assuming he has the ability to do that. Nevertheless, large swaths of America believe him. Or at least they believe that the “libs” should be “owned.” So, they donate to him, and he takes their money, now over $200 million, gladly.[7] Potentially he will use it to fund his lawyers in defense of the various lawsuits in which he is already embroiled. But he could also just hand it to family.[8]

The day closed with a very long and very important meeting of the FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee. The highly anticipated vote on whether the benefits of the Pfizer+BioNtech vaccine outweighed the risks, thereby allowing an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA), came out 17-4 in favor with one abstention.[9] Drs. Fuller, Chatterjee, Kurilla, and Kim voted ‘no’.[10] Yet, it appears their ‘no’ votes hung on the inclusion of 16 and 17 year olds in the EUA. The FDA would not reword the question to say that it was only 18 and up. Dr. Paul Offit, the Philadelphia pediatrician and vaccine advocate who seems to have been involved in coronavirus matters all year long, voted yes because, “We have clear evidence of a benefit. All we have on the other side is theoretical risk.” It looks like the vaccine will go out very soon.

Can it put a dent in hospitalizations and deaths, which are trending aggressively upward again?

Elisabeth Rosenthal, who is usually on the case deducing how profit seeking is damaging the health and financial solvency of Americans, argues that—vaccine or no vaccine—it’s high time to start scaring people about this disease, much the way the anti-smoking ads frightened people in the 1990s.[11] The problem is social rather than merely technical. Perhaps fear is the only way to put the lid on events where the virus spreads quickly. And new genetic “fingerprinting” data published in Science suggests that a small number of medium-sized events caused a great deal of the international spread of disease.[12] If people can be frightened enough to not attend such events, to social distance, to wear masks, perhaps manufacturers can actually make enough vaccine to tamp down both the deaths and the spread.


[1] Sarah Foster, “Survey: 42% Of U.S. Households Say Income Hasn’t Recovered From Initial Coronavirus Hit,” Bankrate, December 9, 2020,

[2] Amy Goldstein, “Income Emerges as a Major Predictor of Coronavirus Infections, along with Race,” Washington Post, June 22, 2020,

[3] Department of Labor, “Unemployment Insurance Weekly Claims (Week Ending 12/5/20)” (Department of Labor, December 10, 2020),

[4] Jake Johnson, “‘Deeply Disturbing’ Surge in Layoffs Spotlights Cruelty of Trump-GOP Refusal to Boost Unemployment Benefits,” Common Dreams, December 10, 2020,; Jason Lemon, “Georgia GOP Senators Back Texas AG’s Lawsuit to Overturn Their Own State’s Election,” Newsweek, December 8, 2020,; Jonathan Shelley, “Banks, Latta among 106 GOP Representatives Backing Texas Election Lawsuit,” WPTA21, December 10, 2020,

[5] Tom Maloney, “Snowflake CEO Collects a $108 Million Payout — Every Month,” Yahoo Finance, December 4, 2020,

[6] Bob Pisani, “The 2021 Outlook for the Booming SPAC Market and Traditional IPOs,” CNBC, December 7, 2020,; Samuel Stebbins and Grant Suneson, “American Billionaires That Got Richer During COVID,” 24/7 Wall St. (blog), November 30, 2020,

[7] Shane Goldmacher, “Trump Lost the 2020 Election. He Has Raised $207.5 Million Since.,” The New York Times, December 4, 2020, sec. U.S.,

[8] Maggie Severns, “Where Trump’s Recount Fundraising Dollars Are Really Going,” Politico, November 12, 2020,


[10] CNBC Television, WATCH LIVE: FDA Advisory Committee Reviews Pfizer’s Covid-19 Vaccine, 2020,; STAT staff, “FDA Advisory Panel Endorses Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 Vaccine,” STAT (blog), December 10, 2020,

[11] Elisabeth Rosenthal, “It’s Time to Scare People About COVID,” Kaiser Health News, December 9, 2020,

[12] Jacob E. Lemieux et al., “Phylogenetic Analysis of SARS-CoV-2 in Boston Highlights the Impact of Superspreading Events,” Science, December 10, 2020,

Read more

CNBC Television. WATCH LIVE: FDA Advisory Committee Reviews Pfizer’s Covid-19 Vaccine, 2020.

NBC News. Over 100 House GOP Sign Brief Supporting Longshot Texas Lawsuit Challenging Election Results, 2020.

Ellen Lopez, “Economic fallout from pandemic prompts huge lines at food bank,” Good Morning America, ABC, November 23, 2020,

Sam Brock, “Long Lines Grow Outside Food Banks As Thanksgiving Nears,” Today, NBC, November 24, 2020,


Johnson, Jake. “‘Deeply Disturbing’ Surge in Layoffs Spotlights Cruelty of Trump-GOP Refusal to Boost Unemployment Benefits.” Common Dreams, December 10, 2020.

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