“According to a recent report examining national ACT scores, American high school students’ ACT scores have dropped dramatically in the past year. The released data highlights the staggering fact that few high school students, even before the pandemic, are academically prepared to attend college. While the most recent decline shows the impact of COVID-era school closures on students’ learning, consistently low scores draw attention to the fundamental flaws at the core of many of America’s government-run schools.”
“the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) announced that it would reinstate its SAT/ACT test requirement for applicants. In a departure from the trends set by other elite universities, MIT rolled back its admissions policy, implemented in the 2020–2021 admissions cycle, which made standardized test scores optional. Administrators cited key issues with “holistic” admissions standards, an increasingly popular method of equitably distributing open spots to students regardless of how well they perform on standardized tests.
In a statement explaining the decision, MIT Dean of Admissions and Student Financial Services Stu Schmill noted that MIT’s “research shows standardized tests help us better assess the academic preparedness of all applicants, and also help us identify socioeconomically disadvantaged students who lack access to advanced coursework or other enrichment opportunities that would otherwise demonstrate their readiness for MIT.”
Without an objective measure like a standardized test, low-income students—who may not have equal access to other pieces of the holistic pie, such as a plethora of Advanced Placement (A.P.) classes or numerous extracurriculars—have a harder time proving that they are academically prepared for an MIT education. A move that was intended to increase diversity and help low-income students, as it turns out, mostly helps low-scoring wealthy students—and makes it harder to identify talented yet underprivileged applicants.
MIT now distinguishes itself from other elite universities, a spate of which have removed their SAT and ACT requirements in recent years, primarily citing COVID-19 and diversity-related justifications for the policy change.
The original logic of such policies is based on the idea that SAT and ACT scores correlate strongly with income, which suggests that students from poorer households are denied admission to competitive schools solely because they can’t afford to ace the SATs.
However, omitting standardized test scores makes all applicants reliant on application materials that correlate even more highly with income, such as admissions essays. A 2021 Stanford study found that essays are actually more strongly correlated with household income than SAT scores. Thus, by omitting one income-correlated metric, one that is even more closely related to income takes prominence.
While wealthy parents can pay for test prep, they can’t take a standardized test for their children (well, almost never). However, with essay coaches and college counselors at their disposal, many wealthy students’ college essays can be manicured to fit exactly what schools are looking for.”
“On November 4, the United Kingdom’s regulatory authorities approved molnupiravir as a treatment for COVID-19 infections. Meanwhile, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) continues to dawdle over approving medications that were so effective that independent Data Monitoring Committees ruled that it would be unethical to continue giving placebos to study participants.
Speaking of dawdling, the FDA has long stymied the development and roll out of another vital component for the effective use of these antiviral medications: namely, at-home COVID-19 testing. Both pills must be taken by people within 3 to 5 days of exposure or symptom onset to be most effective at preventing hospitalization and death. That means that people need to be able to test themselves quickly, easily, and cheaply.
Up until mid-October, the FDA had approved only two over-the-counter at-home COVID-19 diagnostic tests, one of which has now had to be recalled. In the last month and a half, agency regulators have finally gotten around to authorizing nine more.”
“a bin of at-home rapid Flowflex COVID-19 tests for sale for about $3.50 apiece at a supermarket in the Netherlands. The test is manufactured by a company headquartered in the U.S., but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved it for sale here. In the bin below the Flowflex test, you’ll see another COVID-19 self-test offered by Roche. You can buy it in the Netherlands for about $5.90 per test. It too is not approved by the FDA.”
“From the beginning of the pandemic 20 months ago, hypercautious federal bureaucrats have massively bungled COVID-19 diagnostic testing. Way back in March 2020, I argued that the FDA should get out of the way of rapid at-home COVID-19 testing. Instead, the agency prevented private companies and academic labs from developing and deploying any COVID-19 tests. It especially took its sweet time approving at-home diagnostic tests. The first real at-home COVID-19 wasn’t finally approved until mid-December.”
“If cheap rapid COVID-19 self-tests are good enough for Europeans, surely they are good enough for Americans.”
“More than one-in-five Texans who are tested for coronavirus are positive, the worst statewide rate in the country. But the number of people getting tests has plummeted in the last two weeks, which could understate how widespread the virus really is as schools reopen and hospitalizations and deaths remain near record highs.”
“Public health experts say a number of factors may have depressed demand for tests, including long wait times and changing rules for who is eligible and the effects of Tropical Storm Hanna, which battered the southern part of the state late last month and disrupted services near the border with Mexico.
But the biggest reason may be an apparent false sense of security. The drop off in testing coincides with a decline in infections after Abbott ordered people to wear masks, reimposed seating limits in restaurants and closed down bars again. That worries disease trackers who suspect any positive news will breed complacency and make people willing to ignore the possibility they could be infected without showing symptoms. Without widespread testing, new Covid spikes could pop up and go unnoticed.”
“Texas’s drop in testing is part of a larger nationwide trend that’s seen the average number of coronavirus tests fall from more than 800,000 a day in late July to roughly 700,000 over the last week.”
“But the testing problems aren’t all linked to Texans’ behavior. There also are questions about flaws in the state’s data collection that may have distorted who was sick and where. Texas at the end of July had 1 million completed tests whose results had not been assigned to a particular county. Officials are now sorting through the backlog, which could have had the effect of making the tested population appear smaller than it really was.”
“Abbot said testing numbers should rebound in the coming days. There will be a surge in Houston, the governor said, where he aims to test an additional 50,000 people over a 10-day stretch.”
“Covid-19 testing in the US improved dramatically over the first half of 2020, but things now appear to be breaking down once more as coronavirus cases rise and outstrip capacity — to the point that the mayor of a major American city can’t get testing quickly enough to potentially avoid spreading the virus.”
““Basically, two things are happening,” Ashish Jha, faculty director of the Harvard Global Health Institute (HGHI), told me. “One is the outbreaks are getting much bigger, so the amount of testing we need to get our arms around the outbreak is going up. And second, what we did [before] was some tweaking on capacity issues to get ourselves up to 500,000 to 600,000 tests a day, but didn’t fundamentally address the supply chain problems.”
He added, “This was supposed to be the job of the White House. … But they just never have prioritized really building up a robust testing infrastructure for the country.””
“The benchmark of 500,000 tests per day was particularly important, as it was the minimum experts had long called for in order to get the pandemic in the US under control.
But as the country neared that benchmark, attention to testing seemed to plummet. The Trump administration, which had already delegated testing down to lower levels of government and private actors, especially appeared to lose interest: The country’s “testing czar,” Brett Giroir, stood down and went back to his regular job at the Department of Health and Human Services. Trump falsely claimed in May that “America leads the world in testing”; at his Tulsa rally in June, he said he told his people to “slow the testing down” because the rising case count made him look bad. (He later asserted that his statement at the rally was not a joke, despite White House officials insisting it was.)
As all this happened, many of the underlying problems with testing capacity remained.
For one, there’s still a lot of variation between states. While most states, as of July 8, had 150 new tests per 100,000 people per day — the equivalent to 500,000 daily tests nationwide — 18 states still didn’t.”
“Earlier on, the hurdles with testing were linked to supply chain problems: not enough swabs to collect samples, vials to store them, or reagents and kits to run the tests. Over time, those problems were fixed or worked around.
The issue, experts say, is that these kinds of problems were always bound to come back as testing demand increased. Fixing a bottleneck for kits may let the country get to 500,000 tests a day, but that bottleneck can easily come back if, for instance, the nation needs 1 million per day and there are only enough kits for 700,000.”
“labs aren’t sure that making the massive investment for way more tests is financially sustainable, he explained, especially as Covid-19 outbreaks ebb and flow — and, as a result, occasionally deplete demand for those tests, as well as the number of people who need them.
Ideally, the federal government would be in charge of handling these problems. It’s the one entity that can go to labs across the country, see what the holdups are, then work along the global supply chain to see what can be done to address the issues. It has the funding ability to ensure labs and suppliers remain whole. And it can prioritize limited resources to specific cities, counties, or states that need them most, instead of leaving these supplies to a free-for-all.
This is, in fact, what the federal government does with other issues — such as when it ensures that a manufacturer has all the parts needed for an order of guns, tanks, or jets.”
“The Trump administration, however, has described the federal government as a “supplier of last resort.” That’s very different from the kind of proactive approach the feds take on other issues to get ahead of supply constraints.
So the problem is left to private actors as well as local and state governments, which often face legal, financial, and practical constraints that hinder their ability to move quickly. And the problem persists, even as Covid-19 cases continue to rise.”
“Lockdowns, however, were also supposed to buy the nation time to build up its testing system. As Natalie Dean, a biostatistics professor at the University of Florida, previously told me, “The whole point of this social distancing is to buy us time to build up capacity to do the types of public health interventions we know work. If we’re not using this time to scale up testing to the level that we need it to be … we don’t have an exit strategy. And then when we lift things, we’re no better equipped than we were before.”
It’s now clear that the US didn’t take full advantage of the time it bought with lockdowns. While testing did dramatically improve compared to the early days of the pandemic, it’s still not at a point where America can handle the higher demand brought on by another surge in coronavirus cases.
“It’s pathetic. This is not how a first-world country functions,” Jha said. “That people should not expect to access a test to an infectious disease many, many months into a pandemic — I find myself amazed that this is where we are as a country.””
“The US has conducted about 72 tests per 1,000 people, according to Our World In Data. That’s a lower rate than Portugal or Russia or Iceland and about the same as Australia and Italy. Good but hardly warranting “greatest of all time” designations. The number of tests in the US that are coming back positive also suggests we are still not adequately surveilling Covid-19 compared to European countries.”
“When you conduct more tests, you would expect the positive test rate to go down, because along with some more positive tests, you would get many more negative ones. So experts are concerned because in states like Arizona and Florida and Texas, the positive test rate is actually increasing. That is what suggests increased spread of Covid-19 is behind some of rising case numbers — not simply more tests being conducted.”
“Over the past three decades, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has seen its taxpayer-funded budget doubled. Then doubled again. Then doubled again. And then nearly doubled once more.
But spending nearly 14 times as much as we did in 1987 on the agency whose mission statement says it “saves lives and protects people from health threats” did not, apparently, help the CDC combat the emergence of the biggest disease threat America has faced in a century. In fact, a new report argues, inflating the CDC’s budget may have weakened the agency’s ability to handle its core responsibility by giving rise to mission creep and bureaucratic malaise.”
“In addition to combating dangerous infectious diseases like HIV and malaria, the CDC now also studies alcohol and tobacco use, athletic injuries, traffic accidents, and gun violence. While those things can indeed be important factors to public health, Minton notes, they don’t seem to fall within the agency’s original mission.”
“when the coronavirus did hit, the CDC only confirmed that it should not be trusted to make important decisions by forbidding private labs from developing tests for COVID-19. The federal agency’s monopoly on testing supplies produced inaccurate tests that had to be discarded en masse.
The initial testing delay has certainly cost lives. It is also at least partially to blame for the severe quarantine policies that have tipped the American economy into a deep recession—without adequate testing, there was little else for policymakers to do except close the country in the hopes of slowing the disease’s spread.”
“Over the past couple of weeks, the United States has seen significant improvements not just with the raw number of Covid-19 tests but also with other metrics experts use to gauge the scope of the US’s coronavirus outbreak and its testing capacity.
During the week of May 5, the US averaged nearly 300,000 new coronavirus tests a day, according to the Covid Tracking Project. That’s nearly double the roughly 150,000 daily tests performed in early April, although it still falls short of the number of new tests a day experts say is needed to fully control the outbreak — a number that ranges from 500,000 on the low end to tens of millions on the high end, depending on which plan you’re reading.”
“Over much of April, testing numbers stagnated due to supply shortages for swabs, reagents, and other materials needed to collect samples and run coronavirus tests.
Experts have said that the federal government, led by President Donald Trump, should lead national efforts to boost testing. But Trump’s “blueprint” for testing explicitly leaves the problem to the states and private sector, saying the federal government will only act as a “supplier of last resort.””
” With overall cases, the country as a whole has seen its daily new reported Covid-19 cases drop in May. But much of that decrease originated in Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York — the three states included in the New York City metro area, which suffered the worst outbreak. When those three states are excluded, the US has seen daily new Covid-19 cases at best start to drop only in recent days — far from the two weeks of decreases that experts recommend.”
“Some of the upward trend in Covid-19 cases outside Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York in recent weeks is likely due to increased testing.”
“Taken together, these figures suggest that the majority of states are not ready to start to reopen just yet. While America has made decent progress throughout May in confronting the challenge of this pandemic, there’s still a bit more work to be done.”
“At the time, I didn’t find this quote particularly earth-shattering. It seemed like a reasonable concern, but not newsworthy. After all, Americans have lived through multiple pandemic scares — SARS, MERS, swine flu — and we largely dodged each bullet. This part of the interview was off-topic for the series I was making, and I left it on the cutting room floor.
Reading the transcript almost a year later, I am struck by how clearly Fauci described this current pandemic. Our nation’s top public health officials have known that this outbreak, or something like it, was a serious possibility, and they haven’t been keeping this information to themselves. But it’s hard to find the collective will to prepare for — and stop — a theoretical threat. COVID-19 may be unprecedented, but it wasn’t unpredictable.”