Last week we did our second Inside briefing since we came back from our COVID briefing hiatus. I spoke to Annette Gordon-Reed, one of the country’s preeminent Jefferson scholars and the author of two books about the Jefferson-Hemings family and the historical controversies surrounding it. Gordon-Reed is a professor at Harvard Law School and has a joint appointment in the History Department. Her 1997 book Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy was the first major scholarly work to take the existence of Jefferson’s mixed race family seriously. It came out only about a year before the matter was settled conclusively by DNA evidence. Before then it wasn’t universally rejected by historians but was treated as either unknowable or unlikely, an ancient calumny that played little part in the Jefferson biographical tradition. I was eager to discuss this until-recently hidden or denied part of America’s past with Gordon-Reed and get her perspective on how we should see Jefferson in this era of iconoclasm that has accelerated in the wake of the murder of George Floyd.
We’re publishing the discussion in its entirety for members. Watch after the jump.
I’ve mentioned a number of times that we really don’t know the precise mix of factors that are making some states and countries disasters and allowing others to keep it in check. A critical component in all cases is where communities and governments are taking mitigation and containment seriously. But in New York, are we just doing a great job or is the initial outbreak – in which at least 20% of the city population was apparently infected – giving us some extra ability to keep case rates down?
New York City isn’t close to herd immunity by traditional definitions. But ‘herd immunity’ isn’t a binary thing – you don’t have it and then suddenly you do. It’s more like a friction that builds up incrementally in the process of community spread as more people cease to be capable of being vectors because they have immunity to the disease. The more people become infected the more friction there is until at one point the virus can’t effectually reproduce itself and fizzles out.
Clearly this factor is helping New York keep cases very low. But how much – whether it is a minor assist or a major factor – we don’t know.
That’s where a very interesting article from David Wallace-Wells comes in.
Since it’s what I know most about and it’s the largest school district in the country, I’ve been focusing a lot on the school reopening issue in New York City. I want to encourage you to let me know what is happening in your communities whether you’re a parent, a teacher or just a concerned observer. I found this letter from a New York City school principal very enlightening. This person corrects some misunderstandings I had about the level of flexibility the city Department of Education is giving individual schools. They also make an interesting and compelling point about why many educators are eager to have at least some in-person instruction at the beginning of the year.
Here’s TPM Reader ANON … (and remember, let me know what is happening in your community.)
At last, a topic I can claim some expertise on, since I’m the principal of an NYC public school (you can google it and me, but I’d rather remain anonymous, since the DoE is know for retaliating against publicly critical statements, and a few are coming).
It’s been months – ghastly months – since we made excess mortality data a central aspect of our coverage of the COVID Crisis. To review, this is epidemiologists’ and population statisticians’ way of looking at the total number of fatalities for all causes across society and comparing it to baseline trends in recent years. Josh Kovensky is back with a new report based on CDC-collected data which shows that the US has seen more than 200,000 fatalities normal so far this year.
We’re in line for a rash of morality tales emerging out of school re-openings around the country. That high school in Georgia that had the viral photo of kids crowded into a hallway between classes has now reported at least 9 new cases – students and teachers – and is at least temporarily moving to remote instruction.
These stories also provide new evidence of how little emerging science is figuring into decisions on the school reopening question. North Paulding High School is moving to remote instruction today and tomorrow during which time the facility will be closed for cleaning and disinfection. The problem is that most of what we’ve learned over the last eight months tells us that this sort of cleaning addresses what is likely only a minor or even trivial source of infection. COVID virus can persist on surfaces for significant periods of time, at least in laboratory settings. But surfaces contaminated hours or days earlier appear to account for very little disease transmission.
President Trump’s COVID relief decrees are poor policy (setting aside legality) on their own, inasmuch as they only go to people who have jobs. The COVID era is rough for everyone but obviously it’s much less rough for people who haven’t lost their jobs. But what I find remarkable is a part of this plan that Trump managed to avoid getting in the headlines. If you get COVID “relief” in the form of a payroll tax holiday, you still have to pay it back! After the election!
This is an incredibly important oped. You should take a moment to read it. It’s by Michael T. Osterholm, a respected epidemiologist who runs a major center in Minneapolis and Neel Kashkari, now President of the Minneapolis Fed but earlier a key player in the Bush portion of 2008 financial crisis response and a Republican candidate for Governor of California. Their argument is simple: we need another lockdown.
Here is an example of where visualizing data can be very illuminating even if you’ve been steeped in the data in numerical terms. As I mentioned earlier, here is a graph of per capita COVID fatalities to date in the US and the other peer nation states around the globe.
We now have a new projection of 300,000 US COVID fatalities by December. I’ve wanted over recent days to put together a chart showing just how much worse the death toll already is in the US compared to almost any other peer country – ‘peers’ here meaning countries with comparable affluence, state capacity, etc.
The US is now well over 150,000 fatalities. Japan has had just over one thousand. Germany is approaching 10,000 fatalities. These countries have small populations of course. If Germany had the same population as the US that number would be about 40,000. Japan would be about 3,000. But the magnitude of the difference speaks for itself. How many of these 150,000 and counting US fatalities are the product of negligence and policy abdication? 100,000? 75,000? The number is staggering.