New Data Show COVID School Closures Contributed to Largest Learning Loss in Decades

“the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) released new data showing a dramatic decline in test scores among American 9-year-olds since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The data indicate a devastating learning loss among American schoolchildren, marking the largest decline in reading scores since 1990, and the first ever recorded drop in mathematics scores.”

Government Databases Invite Privacy Abuse in China and the U.S.

“In July 2020, the feds indicted more Chinese government hackers for their part in “a hacking campaign lasting more than 10 years to the present, targeting companies in countries with high technology industries, including the United States, Australia, Belgium, Germany, Japan, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Spain, South Korea, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.” In September of the same year, the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency announced that hackers with China’s Ministry of State Security used “commercially available information sources and open-source exploitation tools to target U.S. Government agency networks.”

In March of this year, Mandiant, a cybersecurity firm, revealed that hackers sponsored by the Chinese state were able to “successfully compromise at least six U.S. state government networks.”

Many reports about state-sponsored hacking note that this isn’t a one-sided affair. U.S. officials don’t advertise it, but there’s evidence they’re doing their part to steal sensitive data from Chinese companies and government agencies.”

The U.S. Is Relying On Other Countries’ Data To Make Its Booster Shot Decisions

“Israeli presenters provided slide after slide showing the power of booster shots. But not all of the FDA advisors were convinced. “What they’re seeing in Israel is not necessarily what we’re seeing here in the U.S.,” said Dr. Archana Chatterjee, dean of Chicago Medical School and member of the advisory committee, during the meeting. In an interview with FiveThirtyEight, she explained that Israel’s data is “interesting and very compelling,” but that Israel differs from the U.S. on key characteristics: Namely, a higher share of the Israeli population is inoculated, and a larger proportion of breakthrough cases in Israel led to hospitalization prior to the booster shot rollout. As a result, she said, Israel had a clear need for additional shots to bump up immunity. In the U.S., meanwhile, the vaccines were still highly protective against severe COVID-19 disease and death.

Chatterjee said that her eventual votes — in favor of booster shots — were not based on data from Israel. Still, the Israeli scientists’ very presence at the meeting demonstrated the shortcomings of the U.S. health system. If the U.S. doesn’t comprehensively track its own data, it has to rely on other countries to tell it how to keep Americans safe. Meanwhile, without clear evidence that they can refer to in making their own COVID-19 decisions, many Americans have been confused about whether they are eligible for — or even need — a booster shot.

Israel has a universal health care system for all citizens and permanent residents. So does the U.K., another country that the U.S. looks to for COVID-19 data. Beyond the health care benefits that such policies provide to residents, universal health care has a clear advantage for data scientists seeking to answer medical questions. When every person in the country is plugged into the same health care system, it’s very easy to standardize your data.”

“In the U.S., vaccine research is far more complicated. Rather than one singular, standardized system housing health care data, 50 different states have their own systems, along with hundreds of local health departments and thousands of hospitals. “In the U.S., everything is incredibly fragmented,” said Zoë McLaren, a health economist at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. “And so you get a very fragmented view of what’s going on in the country.””

“Without a unified dataset allowing U.S. researchers to analyze how well the vaccines are working, policymakers are left with limited information to make crucial decisions, such as determining who should be first in line for a booster shot.”

COVID-19 Was Always Going To Be A Struggle For The CDC. But Trump Sure Didn’t Help.

“And, to be sure, the Trump administration did things that not only were well outside established norms but also undermined the CDC and the entire field of public health. For example, on April 3, 2020, while announcing the agency’s recommendation to wear masks, the president repeatedly emphasized that no one had to wear masks and explicitly said that he personally wasn’t going to wear one.

The administration also pushed for edits to the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports, long the primary means for communicating scientific data to other researchers and the broader medical community. These edits were political, designed to downplay the growing number of COVID-19 deaths and support decisions the administration had already made about issues like school reopenings. Emails revealed that members of the Trump administration were accusing the CDC of trying to make the administration look bad by releasing data disclosing the dire nature of the pandemic.

Those kinds of actions by a presidential administration were unprecedented. And they contributed to a loss of morale and a sense within the CDC that everyone just needed to keep their heads down and not make waves. But the political issues weren’t just about what the administration did — they were also about what it didn’t do.

By early March 2020, the CDC had all but disappeared from press briefings on the COVID-19 pandemic. No one in the Trump administration ever explicitly said that the agency wouldn’t be speaking to the public. But, quietly, that’s exactly what happened. By May 2020, the Union of Concerned Scientists could graph the disappearance of the CDC. And this was a completely different situation from what had happened in past pandemics, when presidents let the CDC take the lead.

At the same time, the Trump administration did not seem to facilitate communication between the CDC and outside experts — something the scientists I spoke to said had been the norm for past administrations faced with a public health crisis.”

How the world missed more than half of all Covid-19 deaths

“The United States alone is estimated to have had 905,000 Covid-19 fatalities, vastly more than the 579,000 deaths officially reported, and more than any other country. The calculation is based on modeling of excess mortality that has occurred during the pandemic.

The drastic difference highlights how difficult it is to keep track of even basic metrics like deaths when a deadly disease is raging. The higher toll also means the ripples of the pandemic have spread wider than realized, particularly for health workers on the front lines who have repeatedly faced the onslaught with limited medical resources and personal protection. And the undercounts have important consequences for how countries allocate resources, anticipate future hot spots, and address health inequities.”

The Trump administration forced Apple to turn over lawmakers’ data. Democrats are outraged.

“That the Department of Justice sought the private phone data of US lawmakers without their knowledge is remarkable and disturbing. While details are still emerging, the exchange sets a concerning precedent about the ability of the executive branch to obtain the digital records of lawmakers as well as tech companies’ roles in complying with such orders.”

“The DOJ’s inspector general, Michael Horowitz, announced on Friday that he will start a review of the agency’s actions under the Trump administration and will look at “whether any such uses, or the investigations, were based upon improper considerations.””

Unemployment Is Much Worse Than You Think — Here’s Why.

“Over the years, the rate of unemployment has become not just a gauge of the health of the labor market but the most common yardstick policymakers use to assess the health of the economy as a whole.

By this measure, despite the pandemic, things don’t look so bad right now. The headline unemployment rate for December stood at 6.7 percent. In recent years, there’s been some public recognition that that the headline rate is something of an undercount, since it only includes people actively looking for work; so-called discouraged workers who are unsure of how to go about a job search or who are too discouraged to try any more don’t show up in that top-line number. And, for decades now, the BLS has diligently supplemented the headline unemployment rate with additional information about these workers.

But it turns out that discouraged workers aren’t the only problem with the unemployment rate. In fact, these days the headline unemployment rate isn’t just an undercount, it actually paints an alternate reality that masks the degree to which low- and moderate-income people are hurting. As a result, policymakers believe these Americans are better off than they actually are.

There are two additional problems with the way we count people who are unemployed.

First, there’s no accounting for how many hours a part-time worker is working.”

“Our unemployment figures make it look like the person working a handful of hours because that’s the only work they can get is just as “employed” as a full-time CEO. In practice, this means that the unemployment rate actively obscures how many workers are living in poverty in part not because they don’t have a job, but because they can’t get enough hours.

Second, the data doesn’t indicate whether the job a worker is doing pays enough to keep them out of poverty.”

“Anyone who wants full-time work but can only find part-time work, and those working full-time but earning too little to climb above the poverty line, should be considered functionally unemployed. I’ve begun to calculate this, which I’ve dubbed the True Rate of Unemployment. And the TRU in December wasn’t 6.7 percent — it was an alarming 25.1 percent.”

“In February 2020, when the economy was supposedly “hot,” the official BLS release suggested that a mere 3.5 percent of Americans were unemployed, but the “TRU” number was 24 percent.”

Michigan Voters Demand That Police Get Warrants for Electronic Data

“Michigan voters Tuesday night had a message for police: Get a warrant. Yes, for their phones, too.

Voters overwhelmingly approved Michigan Proposal 2. The referendum, put to the ballot by lawmakers, amends the state constitution to add “electronic data and electronic communications” to the state’s search and seizure laws.”