Testing, Testing, Testing

Not Even the Coronavirus Will Unite America

The US economy can’t reopen without widespread coronavirus testing. Getting there will take a lot of work and money

Trump refuses to lead a country in crisis

It doesn’t take a genius to understand that reopening the economy depends on a program of massive testing. One wonders why it takes a new coronavirus task force of business brains (sans Mitt Romney) to figure this out.

“States can do their own testing,” Trump said. “We’re the federal government. We’re not supposed to stand on street corners doing testing.” Well, there is no way the states and their governors can coordinate and provide the millions of tests per week required. It seems undeniable that any reopening of the economy will result in big spikes in the virus, and who knows how many deaths. Q.E.D.

The Rockefeller Foundation, a major player in health care funding, has a testing proposal.

“It’s going to [initially] cost at least $100 billion and upward of $500 billion over the long haul,” said Eileen O’Connor, senior vice president for communications, policy and advocacy at the Rockefeller Foundation.
The foundation’s plan, which will propose that the cost be financed directly and subsidized by the federal government, estimates that 20 million to 30 million tests each day would need to be performed to get many Americans back to a more normal life.

Their plan will target health care workers first, then food production workers, then truckers. “After that, the goal would be to have tens of millions of tests done every day to have the country fully return to work.” The very idea of implementing such a plan seems totally beyond the thinking of the Trump administration.

At the same time, bureaucratic screwups have made things worse. Nature magazine tells us that their “investigation of several university labs certified to test for the virus finds that they have been held up by regulatory, logistic and administrative obstacles, and stymied by the fragmented US health-care system.”

And the public is so polarized that even a brutal pandemic can’t bring it together. Writing in The Atlantic, Dominic Tierney proposes that nothing short of a powerful human enemy, a Kaiser, a Hitler, will unify the country.

Every aspect of the crisis is colored by partisanship, including beliefs about which information sources to trust and views about who is worthy of federal aid. Even the act of social distancing is political—another way to show tribal colors—as liberals urge people to stay at home and conservatives chafe against government restrictions. The evangelical Liberty University has decided to welcome back thousands of students . . . and has instructed professors to hold office hours in person.

How can one even imagine a program of adequate testing within this kind of tribalism? As the poet said, thoughts of a dry brain in a dry season.

The Trump Administration Will Be Our Downfall

The Trump administration’s botched coronavirus response, explained

An outbreak of incompetence

Covid-19 Is Twisting 2020 Beyond All Recognition

Do yourself a favor and stop listening to the president’s press conferences. How much more waffling and incompetence can you take? “Wear a scarf if you like,” he said the other day. After weeks of fumbling, the CDC has recommended face masks for all. “I don’t think I’m going to be doing it,” said Mr. Vanity. “Wearing a face mask as I greet presidents, prime ministers, dictators, kings, queens—I just don’t see it.” Who can bear to listen to this daily testimony to blather? He can’t even bring himself to issue a national stay-at-home order.

People are fed up, as a slew of recent articles demonstrates: I’ll give you excerpts from a few of these.

Jennifer Rubin, ex-Republican writer for the Washington Post, is one of the more fiery anti-Trumpers. Today she wrote:

One has the sinking feeling that things are going from bad to worse. Trump and the feds declined to act swiftly, in particular failing to get widespread testing up and running. Now they are failing to remedy the dire medical crisis that their negligence brought on.

She tasks the administration for much that’s gone (or is going) wrong—messed-up stimulus disbursements for small-business loans; the Navy brass who fired the captain pleading for help for his thousands of sailors fighting the virus on board his ship. Rubin concludes:

The chaos, confusion and incompetence at the federal level magnify our daily anxiety and uncertainty. We have lost control of our lives, and those supposed to lead us through this ordeal are deepening our national trauma. Years of contempt for expertise, for competent government and for truth itself on the right now haunt us all. God help us.

Thomas B. Edsall, the Columbia professor, frequently offers scholarly political opinion in the New York Times. His critiques are detailed and thorough. Recently, he said, “The current pandemic shows signs of reshaping the American political and social order for years to come.” Trump’s reelection is increasingly in doubt, and partisanship is the major cause.

A new study, Edsall notes, claims that “Partisanship is a more consistent predictor of behaviors, attitudes, and preferences than anything else that we measure.” In other words, the political split in the U.S. largely determines how people respond or fail to respond to the pandemic. That is frightening.

Another piece by David Roberts of Vox documents the “devastating public health consequences” of another partisanship study, which has “Republicans expressing more skepticism and taking fewer precautions, largely following the cues of their political and media leaders (as most people do).” Roberts says partisanship in the U.S. may no longer have any limits:

If a large bloc of the public cannot be convinced of the threat or the need for a response, that bloc can prevent collective action all on its own. It can ensure the virus spreads faster and more widely, no matter what the majority does.

Finally, Vox’s German Lopez presents a historical catalog of how the botched response to the virus “has been a disaster years in the making.” It started with John Bolton’s dismantling of the team in charge of pandemic response in spring 2018 and proceeded through the unbelievable testing failures, the backwaters on “social distancing,” the cutting of funds to critical agencies like EPA, NIH and CDC, and the total foot-dragging on the response to the growing virus threat. Trump has made clear that the lower the numbers, the better his chance of reelection. Now he’s cast his own destiny.

And we learned yesterday that Jared Kushner is now running the coronavirus response. As Rubin said, God help us.

On a personal note: some of you know of my long involvement with jazz music. The past week was especially sad as the coronavirus claimed the lives of three great musicians—Ellis Marsalis, Bucky Pizzarelli and Wallace Roney. I play their music in memoriam. So should you.