Dec 28, 2020 - Health

New Yorker devotes nearly an entire issue to U.S. pandemic response

New Yorker gif of virus spreading in US
Animation: Tyler Comrie/The New Yorker. Used by permission

The New Yorker is devoting nearly the entire issue — something the magazine has done just a handful of times in its history — to "The Plague Year," a 40-page account by Lawrence Wright about how America botched its virus response.

The intrigue: Much of Wright's narration of the West Wing's panicked early response is from the point of view of deputy national security adviser Matt Pottinger, a former Marine and China correspondent for The Wall Street Journal and Reuters


On March 4th, as Matt Pottinger was driving to the White House, he was on the phone with a doctor in China. Taking notes on the back of an envelope while navigating traffic, he was hearing valuable new information about how the virus was being contained in China. The doctor ... emphasized that masks were extremely effective with COVID ...
Still on the phone when he parked his stick-shift Audi, on West Executive Avenue, next to the West Wing, Pottinger forgot to put on the parking brake. As he rushed toward his office, the car rolled backward, narrowly missing the Vice-President’s limo, before coming to rest against a tree.
While the Secret Service examined the errant Audi, Pottinger kept thinking about masks. ...
Nobody in the White House wore a mask until Pottinger donned one, in mid-March. Entering the West Wing, he felt as if he were wearing a clown nose. People gawked. Trump asked if he was ill. Pottinger replied, "I just don’t want to be a footnote in history — the guy who knocked off a President with COVID."

Worthy of your time: Keep reading.

Worth noting: Wright wrote a prescient thriller — "The End of October," out in April — about a global pandemic sparked by a mysterious virus that originated in Asia.

Go deeper