Coronavirus Live Updates: Testing Becomes Major Campaign Issue

The divide over the responsibility for testing.

As the world emerges from lockdown, countries are turning their focus to testing and tracing to contain coronavirus outbreaks. Starting today, Britain will start mass testing and contact tracing. In the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the virus originated, the government undertook a mass testing program to prevent a resurgence. In two weeks, it says it has been able to test nearly 6.5 million people.

President Trump and his presumptive Democratic rival, Joseph R. Biden Jr., have outlined two very different strategies for moving forward. Mr. Biden, who laid out his plan in a little-noticed Medium post, said he would he would set up testing through the federal government, with a public-private board to oversee test manufacturing and distribution, federal safety regulators enforcing testing at work and at least 100,000 contact tracers tracking down people exposed to the virus.

The Trump administration released its new testing strategy over the weekend in an 81-page document, as it was required to do under the Paycheck Protection Program and Heath Care Enhancement Act. The plan would hold states responsible for carrying out all coronavirus testing, though the federal government would provide some supplies needed for the tests.

Polls show that voters tend to favor a prominent role for the federal government. In a Pew Research survey released this month, 61 percent of Americans said coronavirus testing was mostly or entirely the responsibility of the federal government, not the states. A Fox News poll released last week found that 63 percent of registered voters viewed the “lack of available testing” as a “major problem.” Just 12 percent said it was not a problem at all.

Still, some say a one-size-fits-all program isn’t the right way to go. Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, called Mr. Biden’s idea a “typical Democratic response.”

“There’s a big difference between what’s going on in Queens, N.Y., and rural Tennessee, and the governors know best what to do,” he said.

Mr. Biden’s plan, though, shows what a national strategy could entail, including a “Pandemic Testing Board” to oversee “a nationwide campaign” to increase production of diagnostic and antibody tests, coordinate distribution, identify testing sites and people to staff them, and build laboratory capacity.

Testing, he and his advisers wrote, “is the springboard we need to help get our economy safely up and running again.”

“When we think about what to do when benefits expire, it would be helpful to know how many people are actually getting them,” said Elizabeth Pancotti, a research assistant at the National Bureau of Economic Research. The Labor Department reports may be the best source of information, she said, but they offer an “incomplete picture.”

“We’re not just in a holding pattern,” said Alisa Cohn, an executive coach who works with companies including Google and Pfizer. “We’re on our way somewhere new, but we don’t know what it looks like.”

For many professionals, the timing has been excru
ciating. After five years at the wellness industry start-up she co-founded in San Francisco, Hasti Nazem decided it was time for her next adventure in Silicon Valley. Her last day was March 5.

Two months later, the job market has imploded, promising leads have dried up, and Ms. Nazem, 35, is stuck in limbo. She is mining her network for introductions, but is still without a full-time job.

“I’m mostly having Zoom calls with strangers,” she said.

Official case counts often substantially underestimate the number of coronavirus infections. But in the new studies, which tested the population more broadly in an effort to estimate everyone who has been infected, the percentage of people who have been infected so far is still in the single digits. The numbers are a small fraction of the threshold known as herd immunity, at which the virus can no longer spread widely. The precise herd immunity threshold for the virus is not yet clear, but several experts said they believed it would be higher than 60 percent.

Viewed together, the studies show herd immunity protection is unlikely to be reached “any time soon,” said Michael Mina, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

“We don’t have a good way to safely build it up, to be honest, not in the short term,” Dr. Mina said. “Unless we’re going to let the virus run rampant again — but I think society has decided that is not an approach available to us.”

Ms. DeVos announced the measure in a letter to the Council of Chief State School Officers, which represents state education chiefs.

“The CARES Act is a special, pandemic-related appropriation to benefit all American students, teachers and families,” Ms. DeVos wrote on Friday, referring to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. “There is nothing in the act suggesting Congress intended to discriminate between children based on public or nonpublic school attendance, as you seem to do. The virus affects everyone.”

A range of education officials said the guidance would divert millions of dollars from disadvantaged students and force districts to support even the wealthiest private schools.

The association representing the nation’s school superintendents told districts to ignore the guidance, and at least two states, Indiana and Maine, said they would.

Under federal education law, school districts are required to use funding they receive for their poorest students to provide “equitable services,” such as tutoring and transportation for low-income students attending private schools in their districts. But Ms. DeVos’s guidance would award private schools more services than the law would normally require.

Democratic leaders called on Ms. DeVos to revise her guidance.

No announcement will be official until the board of governors convenes on June 10, Mr. Colangelo said.

The enshrinement weekend was originally scheduled for Aug. 28-30, and Mr. Colangelo had proposed Oct. 10-12 as an alternative in case fears over the pandemic lingered. But Mr. Colangelo said it had become clear to him that neither weekend would be feasible.

The pandemic has unmoored already fragile institutions across the country, forcing many Americans to turn to one another for help instead of to the government or nonprofit organizations.

Though the groups’ efforts vary widely, similar attempts to offer assistance have formed in dozens of states, including Arizona, North Carolina and Texas.

The groups are something of a throwback; such networks were popular in the heydays of communal activity, in the early 20th century and again in the 1960s and ’70s.

Among those wanting to help their community were three young idealists from the Detroit area — Justin Onwenu, Bridget Quinn and Lauren Schandeve. So they organized. And with nothing happening in person, they turned to Facebook, creating a group called Metro Detroit Covid-19 Support.

Within days it grew to include thousands of people throughout the area. As the weeks wore on, many people requested or provided face masks, and increasingly, in desperation, asked for help with unemployment.

“For my age group, if we don’t walk away from this moment understanding there are things we really need to change, we will have failed,” Mr. Onwenu said. “It was just so clear early on: This is a generational moment and it’s going to be on us. You look at history and there are certain moments where the psyche of communities completely changes, and this will be on
e of them.”

Starting today, anyone in Britain who suffers potential symptoms of Covid-19 will be tested and, if positive, be asked to list all those with whom they have recently been in close contact for at least 15 minutes. Those people, in turn, will be contacted and asked to isolate themselves for 14 days.

It’s just the latest national campaign that aims to prevent more infections, and another test of how testing and tracing affect transmission of the virus. The results so far are mixed.

Here’s what it feels like to have Covid-19 and not need the hospital.

Rest and fluids are essential, but so is knowing when to call a doctor. Give yourself plenty of time to feel better. Collecting advice from others who have gone through it is also advisable.

Reporting was contributed by Karen Barrow, Scott Cacciola, Patricia Cohen, Catie Edmondson, David Gelles, Erica L. Green, Apoorva Mandavilli, Jennifer Medina, Nadja Popovich, Margot Sanger-Katz, Anna Schaverien, Kaly Soto and Sheryl Gay Stolberg.

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