Coronavirus, Antibody Tests, Nova Scotia: Your Monday Briefing

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Good morning.

We’re covering the state of coronavirus testing in the U.S., a deadly shooting in Canada, and the death of the wildlife photographer Peter Beard.


Saying that the coronavirus pandemic requires an urgent response, the Food and Drug Administration has allowed about 90 companies, many based in China, to sell antibody tests that are intended to indicate whether people may have built immunity to the coronavirus but that haven’t been vetted by the government.

The agency has since warned that some of those businesses are making false claims about their products, and health officials in the U.S. and abroad have found other tests to be deeply flawed.

If you missed his report over the weekend, Donald McNeil, who has been covering infectious diseases for nearly two decades, interviewed more than 20 experts in public health, medicine, epidemiology and history about what the future holds.

The primary conclusion: The U.S. is months away from being able to return to normalcy. Here are the other key points:

  • There is enormous uncertainty. In the best case, scientists would develop a vaccine or — more likely — treatments for the coronavirus’s effects. It’s also possible that the virus will mutate to become less severe. These outcomes are possible but are not the most likely ones.

  • Social distancing is still vital. About 300 million people in America have probably not been exposed to the virus, and epidemiologists say that until a vaccine or other protective measures emerge, it’s not safe for that many people to suddenly come out of confinement.

  • It’s unclear how well the U.S. will cope with the next phase. As more people with immunity get back to work, more of the economy will recover. But if too many people became infected at once, new lockdowns would be needed. To avoid that, widespread testing will be imperative.

“The Daily”: Donald discusses his article on today’s episode of the podcast.


By encouraging Americans to “liberate” three Democratic-governed states from stay-at-home orders, the president returned to an approach that was a key to his campaign’s success four years ago: fomenting voter anger at the establishment.

Our White House correspondent Maggie Haberman writes: “The president, who ran as an insurgent in 2016, is most comfortable raging against the machine of government, even when he is the one running the country.”

Another angle: Charlie Kirk, who runs the student group Turning Point USA, has been among the louder voices stoking skepticism of the threat posed by Covid-19.

Perspective: In an opinion piece for The Times, Senator Bernie Sanders writes: “In the midst of the twin crises that we face — the coronavirus pandemic and the meltdown of our economy — it’s imperative that we re-examine some of the foundations of American society, understand why they are failing us, and fight for a fairer and more just nation.”

The 50th anniversary of Earth Day is this week, and The Times spoke with one of its organizers, Denis Hayes, shown above in 1970.

“This was not an anti-litter campaign,” he recalled. “This was talking about fundamental changes in the nature of the American economy.” The cause that drew 20 million people into the streets was, he said, “in some ways much more profoundly radical” than the anti-Vietnam War movement.

Deadly shooting in Canada: At least 16 people were killed, including a police officer, after a 12-hour rampage in Nova Scotia, the police said. The gunman also died.

Snapshot: Above, children from the Uru Eu Wau Wau Indigenous group in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil. President Jair Bolsonaro is moving aggressively to open up the region to commercial development, posing an existential threat to the tribes living there.

In memoriam: Peter Beard, who was called “the last of the adventurers,” photographed African fauna at great personal risk, and well into his older years could party until dawn. He was found dead on Sunday, almost three weeks after disappearing from his home on Long Island. He was 82.

Metropolitan Diary: In this week’s column, doing a sidewalk dance, remembering an ugly couch and more reader tales of New York City.

What we’re watching: This video from the Duluth Harbor Cam in Minnesota. “Watching huge cargo ships arrive and depart in Duluth is a thrill,” says Gina Lamb of Special Sections, who grew up in the Lake Superior port city. “It’s a good reminder of how connected we all are.”

Jennifer Valentino-DeVries, an investigative reporter for The Times, has spent nearly a decade reporting on how websites and apps collect information on users. When the coronavirus hit the U.S., she and her colleagues discovered that the data showed that poorer Americans were less likely to be able to stay home. Here are highlights from Jennifer’s chat with Times Insider.

What did you learn?

Orders telling people to stay at home are working in limiting movement, but people who are not under those orders are continuing to move around, and some people, particularly those who live in poorer areas, are more likely to keep moving because of their work.

It is good to feel that we’re all in this together, but the data shows that’s not the case. Some people are facing more risk than others.

How do you see the potential of location data helping to combat the coronavirus?

Epidemiologists and journalists are looking for ways this data might help model the trajectory of the pandemic and whether social distancing measures are working — or whether, if they’re relaxed, that leads to a resurgence of the disease.

What was your previous reporting on location data about?

I was demonstrating the profound capabilities of location data and how intrusive it can be — many people are unaware of the fact that it is gathered at all. A lot of companies’ statements about location data are misleading. Saying the data is “anonymous” is not adequately conveying how much it can tell you about somebody, even if you don’t know his or her name. Companies should be willing to tell you exactly what they’re doing.

Why did those concerns not apply to the use of location data for this article?

There are a lot of privacy advocates I know who disagree with the idea that location data should be collected or stored at all.

I would say it’s possible for users to agree to provide this data. Some of the things that Google does — telling you how long your route home is likely to take — can be useful.

I think an important factor for my personal interest in participating was that this is a public health crisis, and this data could help illuminate some of the inequalities involved.


That’s it for this briefing. See you next time.

— Chris


Thank you
To Melissa Clark for the recipe, and to Theodore Kim and Jahaan Singh for the rest of the break from the news. Alex Traub conducted the interview for the Back Story. You can reach the team at briefing@nytimes.com.

P.S.
• We’re listening to “The Daily.” Today’s episode is about what the U.S. might look like after states lift coronavirus-related lockdowns.
• Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Drink that comes from the Russian for “water” (five letters). You can find all our puzzles here.
• The Times has introduced “Rabbit Hole,” a narrative audio series about what the internet is doing to us, anchored by our tech columnist Kevin Roose.

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