Comprehensive COVID-19 Screening Would Pay for Itself Many Times Over

Dee Gill on more ambitious testing than anything the United States has tried yet as we await widespread vaccination:

A nationwide COVID-19 screening program that includes quick verification of positive test results would provide economic benefits far beyond its considerable costs, according to new research out of UCLA and Harvard. A two-test protocol could spur economic recovery by greatly reducing the number of people and businesses sidelined by COVID-19–related fears and unnecessary quarantines, as well as lowering actual sickness and death rates.

The study analyzes three hypothetical protocols for federally funded screening programs that test large swaths of the mostly asymptomatic population every 4, 7, 14 or 30 days. Any one of the scenarios would induce GDP growth that generates more than enough additional tax revenue to pay for the testing costs, according to findings detailed in a working paper by UCLA’s Andrew Atkeson and Harvard’s Michael C. Droste, Michael Mina and James H. Stock.

The idea is to pair a cheaper rapid test with a more expensive, more accurate test to shorten quarantines, keep schools open and ease fears.

As the study points out, while there’s good news on the vaccination front, but we still don’t have one approved or in mass production.

How Your Brain Tricks You Into Taking Risks During the Pandemic

Marshall Allen and Meg Marco, reporting for ProPublica:

[Psychologist, writer and champion poker player Maria] Konnikova’s psychology expertise tells her that most people have a hard time thinking through the uncertainty and probabilities posed by the pandemic. People tend to learn through experience, and we’ve never lived through anything like COVID-19. Every day, people face unpleasant and uncertain risks associated with their behavior, and that ambiguity goes against how we tend to think. “The brain likes certainty,” she said. “The brain likes black and white. It wants clear answers and wants clear cause and effect. It doesn’t like living in a world of ambiguities and gray zones.”

Good public health communication requires testing messages to make sure they are interpreted correctly by a wide range of people, [Carnegie Mellon University psychologist studying risk and decision-making Baruch] Fischhoff said. “Our official communicators have dropped the ball, and they have been undermined by people who don’t have the public’s interest at heart,” he said.

National Security Petri Dish

It’s easy to lose sight of just how poorly our government has handled the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tucked away in this piece by Bloomberg’s Jennifer Jacobs about Donald Trump’s National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien, is some perspective which offers biting criticism:

O’Brien’s trip to Asia came at a delicate moment in the coronavirus pandemic. The U.S. outbreak is again surging, with the country recording more than 140,000 new cases a day the week of his departure.

Vietnam, by comparison, has reported just over 1,300 cases since the pandemic began. Some Trump advisers remarked that there may have been more cases just in the president’s orbit — including the president himself, and most recently, his oldest son, Donald Trump Jr.

Vietnam’s total cases are just 1 percent of the United States’ daily cases.

And so the Americans were treated like “human Petri dishes” with precautions such as meals left outside hotel room doors, tests performed by officials in head-to-toe protective gear, restricting the guests to a single hotel floor and not allowing the Air Force flight crew to stay in Vietnam while the delegation conducted its business.

All of these seem like wise precautions, since at least three members of the flight crew developed symptoms and tested positive while on the trip.

Of Mandates and Messaging

Facing rampant viral spread, 2,000 dead Iowans with more surely on the way and hospitals packed to capacity, Gov. Kim Reynolds issued — finally — a sort of statewide mask mandate.

“If Iowans don’t buy into this,” she said, “we lose.”

Unfortunately, she’s spent the summer and fall helping Iowans buy into the importance of masks, distancing and avoiding gatherings at rallies like the one she appeared at in a Des Moines with Donald Trump.

Gov. Reynolds helping Iowans buy into the importance of masks, distancing and avoiding gatherings in Des Moines with Donald Trump.

Mandates from the state certainly matter. Prohibiting group fitness classes will lead to classes being canceled, which will mitigate spread, even if it’s not enough to save our healthcare system from being overwhelmed. Requiring masks at indoor public places will lead a segment of Iowans who weren’t to finally wear masks.

But Reynolds has taken away, or at least severely undercut, her other, best tool: messaging.

That’s critical to getting that buy in because, as she admitted in her address undercutting her message, the state doesn’t have the enforcement capabilities to police everywhere.

So, while there’s a lot of photos of her out in her Iowa flag mask (modeling good behavior!), her other actions (modeling bad behavior!) and continued, vocal resistance to issuing a mask mandate coupled with weak statements about trusting Iowans to do the right thing, sent a different message: mask wearing was a choice like a scarf in winter not a requirement like a seatbelt in a car.

Her own press releases were missed opportunities, always touting the continuation of State Public Health Emergency Declaration and never highlighting the mitigation efforts they contained. In the age of social media, the headline matters most.

Her own department of public health, responsible for her ballyhooed public awareness campaign for those segments that are still unaware we’re in the midst of a raging, deadly pandemic, fumbled with an idiotic, now-deleted post.

In Reynolds’ press conferences and other remarks, she always seemed to focus on the loopholes and exceptions to her mitigation efforts, instead of focusing on the requirements. I’ve spent the last eight months re-writing her press releases to emphasize the mitigation parts.

Even in her address, she made a point of acknowledging there wasn’t a real way to enforce any of the mandates or measures.

And so, while Iowans brace (or don’t) for a rapidly worsening state of the pandemic, instead of clear messages, we’re left to wonder: do we have a mask mandate?

Some scorecards say yes. Ultimately I’m not sure how much it matters either way.

If Reynolds hadn’t spent her time, effort and political attention undermining mitigation efforts by muddying her message and doing another, Iowans would be much more likely to “buy into this.”


A version of this post was republished by The Gazette on Sunday, Nov. 22.

Big Press Conference at the Four Seasons

I can’t get over this photo of the Trump campaign’s press conference at the Four Seasons Total Landscaping in Philadelphia.

Donald John Trump owns (heavily leveraged) real estate and, presumably, has connections with folks who have, well, nicer options.

Donald John Trump has tastes that run so far past upscale to gaudy that he launched his first campaign on a golden escalator.

Donald John Trump illegally held political events, including his nomination acceptance speech, at the White House which, after four years, still conveys seriousness, authority and power.

But, no, his “legal team” is holding a slap-dash (look at that mess of power cords and microphone cables in the lower left corner) press conference at the Four Seasons Total Landscaping offices.

I mean, how does this happen? Even knowing that Donald John Trump has shown total disinterest in planning anything, HOW DOES THIS HAPPEN?

I’m particularly tickled by this setup because, when my wife ran for Iowa City city council, our friend Sean let us use his space at his landscaping place to build her homecoming parade float.

But in her case it wasn’t in desperation. And she won.

Seriously. I can’t get over this photo.

We Will Count Every Vote

I put this down as a marker ahead of Nov. 3: like every free and fair election, this election is not over until we have counted every vote.

We hold ourselves up a democracy, so we will count every vote. 

It doesn’t matter if it was cast by a lifelong Republican or a former felon with restored rights. It doesn’t matter if it’s a Libertarian’s mailed ballot postmarked Nov. 2 and arriving Nov. 4 or an independent’s ballot voted in-person at 8:59 p.m. on Nov. 3. We count them. 

We count every vote, and we haven’t decided a winner until they’ve all been counted.

Every vote in Iowa. Every vote in Texas. Every vote in Alabama. And in Pennsylvania. In Ohio and in Florida. We count every last vote. 

We will count every vote because we’re a democracy, and this is how we, the people, decide our leaders. 

Voters, not candidates, decide winners. Voters, not judges or even justices of the United States Supreme Court, decide winners. To declare a winner but not count every vote is authoritarianism. To declare yourself a winner without counting every vote is a coup.

Because democracy means counting every vote.

A complete count can take us days or weeks, but we will count every vote, and then, not a moment earlier, we will have elected our leaders.

Spineless

Massachusetts’s Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, “cannot support Donald Trump for president” but doesn’t say who he will support.

Maryland’s Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, didn’t vote for Trump, instead saying he “voted for Ronald Reagan.”

Nebraska’s Sen. Ben Sasse, a Republican, slammed Trump on a constituent call, noting his strong disagreements are “why I didn’t agree to be on his re-election committee, and it’s why I’m not campaigning for him.

These are cowardly positions and do not take a stand against Trump’s real harm or against greater Trumpism. Say what you will about The Lincoln Project, but that group of former Republicans seem to understand the need — and be willing to — blow up Republicanism to defeat Trumpism.

No, Baker’s and Hogan’s and Sasse’s stances are all cowardly attempts to retain political power for Republicans.

The tell in all of this, whether it’s a voting for a dead man who, even if resurrected, is ineligible to serve as president or an unwillingness to openly endorse the only other presidential candidate who has a chance of beating Trump, is that Sasse’s concern that the president’s recklessness could lead to a “Republican blood bath.”

Democrats need sane conservative opposition to keep them honest, and they haven’t had that in a long time. Republicans haven’t, apparently, needed to be sane to win and wield power.

But Republicans are clinging to this fantasy that they can defeat Trumpism and save conservativism. But they miss that, right now, they can’t defeat former without burning down the latter.


In the run up to the election we can expect other Republicans to jump ship. Here are some who are open about not supporting Trump, but squeamish about offer support to Joe Biden, who is, you’ll recall, the only candidate on the ballot who can defeat Trump.

Utah’s Sen. Mitt Romney, a Republican, did not vote for Trump, but says who he did vote for is “something I’m keeping private at this stage.

Shut Up and Grapple

Dan Gable on Wednesday, lured to President Donald Trump’s Des Moines super-spreader event, hosted against the backdrop of the state’s COVID-19 cases passing 100,000 and hospitalizations at their highest point since the pandemic began, with the promise of a Presidential Medal of Freedom:

This guy’s already a one-time champion. But because he’s open for learning, and he’s already very competent, he’s going to be a multi-champion president of the United States of America.

Waiting for the backlash of conservative pundits telling to Gable to “stick to sports.”

Lyz Lenz’s Departure from The Gazette

On Oct. 5, 2020, Lyz Lenz tweeted that The Gazette had “fired” her that morning. This is the email I sent to Executive Editor Zach Kucharski and Opinions Editor Todd Dorman.

Zack and Todd,

No doubt you’ve heard from a number of folks regarding Lyz Lenz’s departure from The Gazette. I wanted to express my concern to you both about this development, while acknowledging that I have little insight into why it may have occurred and that tweets are hardly a solid factual foundation on which to build a strong understanding.

I will miss Lyz’s attention, her reporting and her strong-and-sometimes-divisive voice. This is a loss for The Gazette‘s opinion pages.

But my larger concern is that the timing of her departure leads to the appearance that The Gazette is kowtowing to Republican Party and its political candidates in Iowa who made the unfortunate choice to refuse invitations to engage with your editorial board because of her columns or, perhaps more simply, the headlines they carried.

I suspect that is not the reasoning.

I hope The Gazette will offer its readers, subscribers and community some insight into the decision making, and will continue to cover our community with clear eyes and thoughtful commentary.

Yours, Nick Bergus