President Trump tests positive, new developments in contact tracing and testing, and America’s largest school districts navigate reopening. Here’s what you should know:
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President Trump tests positive for Covid-19, and the country plans for an uncertain future
Late last night, President Trump tweeted that he and Melania had tested positive for Covid-19. Hours earlier, the White House had announced that Hope Hicks, a trusted aide of the president, had also tested positive. The president has gone into quarantine with the first lady, and a memorandum from his physician noted that both are doing well. Still, everyone is wondering what will happen if he gets seriously sick, not least because three of the things known to make this disease riskier are being male, old, and overweight. Stocks have fallen since news of the president’s diagnosis broke. Both Joe Biden and Mike Pence have tested negative, but tracing all of the president’s contacts will be a Herculean task.
This development throws into relief the president’s refusal to take this virus seriously and the impact that has had on national planning, or lack thereof. Nine months after the first known coronavirus case in the US, researchers are attempting to put together a plan for a comprehensive, nationwide response in the absence of one from the federal government. And while numerous vaccines are in Phase III trials—a significant achievement in its own right—slight differences in trials and no head-to-head comparisons mean that there are still a lot of unknowns. Even so, as Anthony Fauci told WIRED’s Steven Levy earlier this week, there is reason to be optimistic: “This outbreak will end.”
New developments in tracing, testing, and how to think about stopping the spread of Covid-19
Earlier this week, New York and New Jersey became the latest states to release voluntary contact-tracing apps. The apps protect users’ privacy by identifying them with a random sequence of numbers that changes every few minutes, and they will notify people when they have been in contact with someone who’s tested positive. There’s still much to learn about how SARS-CoV-2 spreads, but nine months of epidemiological data have shown that it tends to spread in clusters. Some infected people barely spread it at all, while others are single-handedly responsible for soaring numbers. Thus far, contact-tracing apps haven’t done much to stop the spread of Covid-19 in the US, as different states coordinate patchwork responses and the federal government doesn’t weigh in.
Of course, contact tracing of any kind can only be effective if tests are available and results are returned quickly. As many Americans continue to get test results back too late to be useful, a new House bill introduced by Mikie Sherrill (D-New Jersery) would increase federal reimbursements to labs depending on how quickly they turn around Covid-19 test results. The aptly named SPEEDY Act will offer graduated reimbursements for results coming back in 24, 48, or 72 hours, and won’t pay at all for those that take more time. Bill Gates had suggested a similar plan in an interview with WIRED this summer. While it is well established that an effective testing apparatus is a prerequisite for getting this pandemic under control, ultimately the only thing that will stop the virus’s spread is how people behave.
America’s largest school districts navigate the turbulence of resuming in-person classes
The nation’s largest school districts continue to grapple with whether and how to resume in-person classes. New York City schools entered the third and final phase of reopening yesterday as students in hundreds of middle and high schools reentered classrooms. The city plans to catch outbreaks by randomly testing students at each of its 1,800 public schools, a monumental operation that researchers say may still be insufficient. Schools will close if an average of more than 3 percent of people tested in the city are positive over seven days. and last week, the positivity rate passed that threshold for the first time since June.