A lighthearted note on which to end a lighthearted week.
“I’m just wondering what’s taking so long [with testing],” Tur declared.
Hogan then admitted, “Everybody’s trying to work on it, but I don’t believe they can wrap up fast enough. That’s the simple answer. We’ve moved on from testing, quite frankly, to other things right now.”
After being asked what the “other things” are, Hogan said, “We’ve moved from containment to mitigation and quite frankly at some point soon we’re probably not going to be into testing as much because the hospitals will be overwhelmed and unable to do the tests.”
I don’t know what to make of that. Most testing won’t be done at hospitals. It’ll be done at public labs, private labs, and academic labs. My sense, if you watch the clip below (starting at 7:44), is that he means his administration is “moving on” from worrying about the delay in testing. They have more pressing issues now, like outfitting hospitals for the coming crunch. He doesn’t mean that the feds or the medical community are giving up on it.
But it can’t be that his administration is moving on fully. Even in the teeth of a major outbreak, testing will remain a priority in order to identify people who need to self-quarantine so that they don’t spread the virus further. His team has an interest in making sure that testing in Maryland is widespread even after the run on hospitals has begun for that reason.
Or does it? It’s above my pay grade but maybe there’s a tipping point in an outbreak at which the virus is so far out of control that it doesn’t make epidemiological sense anymore to test for it. There must be some threshold at which so many people are infected that it suddenly becomes highly likely that at least half of the population will contract the disease and herd immunity will begin to control further spread. Is there sound cost/benefit logic in continuing to test people at that point?
Even if there isn’t, we can’t be so far gone already that Hogan should be indifferent to testing hold-ups. Is he just trying to cover for Trump here in shrugging off the delay, making sure that Maryland doesn’t end up getting short shrift from the feds because he knows the president will be vindictive if he criticizes him?
Former Trump advisor Tom Bossert is still very much interested in testing, and the sooner, the better:
When will new, promised automatic testing be in place? Task force speculated CoV will peak over the next 8-9 weeks. The goal of implementing targeted, layered, mitigation is to do so before the virus has spread to 1% of any community. Which comes first. Keep an eye on timelines.
— Thomas P. Bossert (@TomBossert) March 13, 2020
If you want to grasp the math behind the urgency, I strongly recommend this Times piece on the “positive” side of exponential growth. The exponential growth of coronavirus is the great peril of the disease; it doubles among the population every week or so, which means the numbers can go from unnoticeable to explosive in a blink. That cuts both ways, though: The sooner we act to reduce infections, which is already happening via social distancing, the more enormous the long-term payoff is in terms of infections that never happen.
The graph illustrates the results of a thought experiment. It assumes constant 30 percent growth throughout the next month in an epidemic like the one in the U.S. right now, and compares the results of stopping one infection today — by actions such as shifting to online classes, canceling of large events and imposing travel restrictions — versus taking the same action one week from today
The difference is stark. If you act today, you will have averted four times as many infections in the next month: roughly 2,400 averted infections, versus just 600 if you wait one week. That’s the power of averting just one infection, and obviously we would like to avert more than one.
That’s not to say those 2,400 people who are spared will never be infected. But they’ll be infected later. Maybe when the hospitals aren’t crowded. Maybe when antiviral drugs are in place to help them fight the infection off. Every second counts. Some heartbreaking goodbye phone calls from the gurney will never need to be made.
Because of exponential growth, the assumption is that we’ll have 8,000 known infections or more by mid-week next week *assuming* that testing is robust enough to detect them. God only knows how many undetected cases are already circulating. In the meantime, food for thought: What’s Congress doing to prepare for an outbreak within its own ranks? Our national legislature is teeming with geriatrics, the people most vulnerable to serious complications from infection. There are no gubernatorial appointments to fill vacant House seats; special elections would need to be held at a most inopportune time. If members are merely incapacitated and not killed by the disease, that would potentially affect Congress’s ability to act legislatively by impairing its ability to form a quorum. How will they deal with that? Read this and this for some ideas.
Exit question: Why can’t Congress just vote from home? It’s an archaic tradition in an age of teleconferencing that they congregate to do business. Let ’em spend more time in their home districts, closer to the people they represent and safer from infecting each other in the Capitol. It’ll be good for federalism and helpful going forward in preventing them from becoming native creatures of the Washington swamp.