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Substance and bull

March 23, 2020

Read David Ho on the biology of Covid-19 and the state of the epidemic. I suspect when we look back at the missteps made, one of the more salient will be our failure to start antibody testing sooner here, and that this will stand as understatement:

We need point-of-care tests. Those kinds of tests are available for HIV and for many other diseases; you use a finger stick, drop the blood on a small device, and have a readout in 15 minutes. These tests measure antibody response to the virus and are extremely useful. Yet we don’t have a single test licensed in the U.S. In China, in South Korea, and in Europe, those tests are used. The manufacturer for this rapid test is producing a million a day. It’s there. But in the name of protecting the public, the FDA has moved very, very slowly. That delay, in my view, has caused more harm than good.

The release of Sherlock based tests is good. But we still need antibody testing. Ho does not predict the future path of the disease. 538 reports on a survey of expert predictions. You would be correct to come away from that article full of uncertainty. Prepare for weeks or months more of it.

Now, for the bull. Polls show how effective right-wing media in the US was at dismissing the risk of the coronavirus early this year:

Gallup’s poll, conducted between March 3 and 13, found that only 42% of Republicans were “very worried” or “somewhat worried” about the virus. In comparison, 73% of Democrats expressed that level of concern.

Of course, if you see no reason to worry, you think the media that were saying differently were exaggerating the risk:

Pew Research, which conducted its survey from March 10 to 16, found that 83% of Republicans who consumed only a diet of outlets with right-leaning audiences believed the news media had exaggerated the risks of the virus. That number was 30% higher than Democrats who consumed only outlets with left-leaning audiences. More specifically, Pew Research found that 79% of people who said they turned to Fox News for their news believed the media had exaggerated the risks of the virus.

Fox News just did a rather astonishing volte-face. Anyone who thinks the journalists there are embarrassed by that, or that their audience might start to question an outlet that makes an unhinted gybe of that sort, little understands how propaganda works.

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