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.

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.

It Could Be Worse. In Iowa Nice Praise of Test Iowa

There have been a lot of complaints about Test Iowa and Gov. Kim Reynolds’ response to COVID-19. Those complaints do not feel very Iowa nice. It could be worse.

So I wanted to offer some overdue praise.

Since Test Iowa’s launch, I had been dutifully submitting my personal information to the state via its opaque website. It’s easy for me, since I have a cell phone, email address, ready access to the internet and my health.

I was tested on Aug. 10 in Cedar Rapids, and I can honestly say that my Test Iowa test was the best thing to happen to me that day.

Each week, I received a personalized link and encouragement to “crush the curve.” I would follow that link, reenter my name, email address (twice for confirmation), cell phone number (twice for confirmation), date of birth, street address, city, state, ZIP code, gender, height (in inches), weight, underlying conditions, demographics of my household, and job. I was glad they were being so careful to make sure it was me.

In May, testing became available to anyone could get an appointment regardless of symptoms who after two months and a $28 million no-bid contract to help us crush the curve. And we did, as Iowans undertook serious group study to get ahead and help set the grading curve here in the Midwest.

As the school year crept up on us, even though we’d been super careful and hadn’t set foot inside a grocery store, restaurant or movie theater since before spring break, my family wanted to get tested. Scheduling our tests was four simple steps. Our process was:

  1. Plan some vacation time, since we couldn’t guarantee testing on a specific day and no testing is done on weekends or evenings.
  2. Check each morning in the days leading up to our time off to see if we could schedule a test.
  3. Schedule a test. Then log in as my wife and schedule another test. Then log in as my daughter and schedule a third test.
  4. Print our QR codes on actual paper to be ready to go for our test.

While we live in the fourth most populated county in the state, and minutes from the state’s hygienic laboratory, we had got to travel to Linn County for testing. Since we’re not transportation dependent and own the required hardtop vehicle (no walk ups!), we had no problems getting to the test site, as it had good signage from the interstate.

The test took just minutes, and the care worker who shoved an incredibly long swab up my nose twice for 10 seconds each could not have been kinder and more professional.

I received my results — negative — about 24 hours later (once I could find a place with enough LTE data to load the website).


This week was our summer vacation, originally set for hiking the Colorado Rockies; we stuck closer to home amid the pandemic. 

And so, as Monday’s derecho storm rolled in, we were at Palisades-Kepler State Park, just east of  Cedar Rapids. We sheltered first in our car, buffeted by 100+ mph winds, and then in the park ranger’s basement.

After the storm passed, we abandoned our car and hiked the quarter mile out, over broken trees, downed power lines and dying wildlife. We were fortunate to get a ride home with my parents, who had downed trees and no power at home.

We returned home to find no power, a terrified dog and at least two large tree limbs had gone through our roof and ceilings. Our damage was much less than many.

Thanks to the kindness of neighbors and friends, we got cleaned up, kept our phones charged and our coolers full of ice. Many others offered help, because that’s what Iowans do. Thank you.

Power was restored this morning, thanks to overnight work by linemen and foresters, 108 hours later. 

Dismantle Our Current Structures

Redefining what public safety means for the University of Iowa will require the campus community to think differently and to dismantle our current structures in order to build a better future.

Everyone has a right to be skeptical that real actions and change follows, but when that quote follows “in order to truly reimagine public safety on our campus, we must approach the issue as though we are starting from scratch” in the press release from our big public university?

This moment is different.

Or maybe not. Skepticism is OK.

One-track Minds

We’re in the midst of a moment: police brutality, the long-time callous disregard for Black lives, has come to the fore with opportunity for rapid change and reform.


We’re in the midst of a moment: a global pandemic infecting millions of Americans, and killing thousands without an end — or leadership — in sight.


We’re in the midst of a moment: an incompetent wanna authoritarian for whom cruelty seems to be the point stands for election.


We’re in the midst of a moment: the point-of-no-return for our climate.

And so on and so forth.

Humans are so bad at focusing on more than a single rage-inducing issue at a time, our wannabe authoritarian has (inadvertently?) weaponized it against us.

In short: you can stay mad, but you can’t stay mad at the same thing if more horrors keep popping up. There’s so much coming at us and the rapidly-dying media that we can’t keep our focus long enough to make the case that is obvious.

It’s so easy to forget. To forget the compounding weight.

We humans like to chuckle about how goldfish forget something once they hit the other side of their bowl. Or about how dogs only think in the present tense. Or how birds can’t count above three. Gosh, they’re so simple.

And here we are, stuck on our one track.

Hindsight: Best Pandemic Moves

Making a few stock-up purchases two months ago.

Planning my spring break to a cabin in an isolated state park five months ago.

Refinishing the basement and building an addition to provide spaces to work, read, sunbathe, puzzle two years ago.

Moving to careers that pay well and allow us to work from home 12 years ago.

Buying a chest freezer 13 years ago.

Becoming a parent and stopping after one child 15 years ago.

Being born a white, cis, hetero male to educated, well-to-do parents who have been supportive of me my entire life, allowing me an incredibly large safety net so when a global pandemic hits I’ll be just fine, thanks, 40 years ago.

(Did you “make” good pandemic moves, too? There are people you should help.)

Last Meal

On March 13, I consumed one of my last meals in a restaurant for the foreseeable future. I found myself on North State Street in Chicago, surrounded by employees munching on Hot Cheetos and kale salads before the lunch rush.

Nina Elkadi, Life Without Restaurants, Little Village

This piece, which, coincidentally, includes a photo of my family eating at Pullman’s Mission Creek dinner a couple years ago, has had me thinking about my last restaurant meal.

It was for my birthday in early March, and the food, prepared with care and creativity by Rodina‘s team, was excellent, as was the company of Evelyn, Laura, Sam, Erek, Kelly, David and Lisa.

Such meals aren’t ancillary to my social life. As a homebody and an introvert (of which I’m even more certain now than before), they’re often the necessary social lubricant.

I miss (in-person) meals with family, and I miss meals with friends. I miss the magical experiences — surprising, novel and transportive — that restaurants can offer.

When we travel (when will that happen again?), it often centers on food, and we seek out those places we hope will offer a thoughtful meal and then figure out what else we’ll do and where we’ll stay from there.

When we’re home and our kid is off with friends (when will that happen again?), we’ll venture somewhere locally, and simply watch people while we enjoy good drinks and good food.

None of that comes in a to-go box.