Archives for category: Science

Ezra Klein, a new columnist for the New York Times, writes that Biden’s plan to curb the pandemic is so blindingly obvious that it demonstrates how reckless and indifferent the Trump administration was. Trump thought that producing the vaccine would end the pandemic; but what matters most is getting people vaccinated, and for that he had no plan at all. When you read this, you may feel–as I did–thank God that someone is in charge who has ideas and plans about how to get people vaccinated. Someone is in charge. That’s a huge change.

He writes:

I wish I could tell you that the incoming Biden administration had a genius plan for combating Covid-19, thick with ideas no one else had thought of and strategies no one else had tried. But it doesn’t.

What it does have is the obvious plan for combating Covid-19, full of ideas many others have thought of and strategies it is appalling we haven’t yet tried. That it is possible for Joe Biden and his team to release a plan this straightforward is the most damning indictment of the Trump administration’s coronavirus response imaginable.

The Trump administration seemed to believe a vaccine would solve the coronavirus problem, freeing President Trump and his advisers of the pesky work of governance. But vaccines don’t save people; vaccinations do. And vaccinating more than 300 million people, at breakneck speed, is a challenge that only the federal government has the resources to meet. The Trump administration, in other words, had it backward. The development of the vaccines meant merely that the most logistically daunting phase of the crisis, in terms of the federal government’s role, could finally begin.

In the absence of a coordinated federal campaign, the job has fallen to overstretched, underresourced state and local governments, with predictably wan results. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, of the roughly 31 million doses that have been sent out, about 12 million have been used.

The good news is that the incoming Biden administration sees the situation clearly. “This will be one of the most challenging operational efforts ever undertaken by our country,” Biden said on Friday. “You have my word that we will manage the hell out of this operation.”

The person in charge of managing the hell out of the operation is Jeff Zients, who served as chief performance officer under President Barack Obama and led the rescue of HealthCare.gov. In a Saturday briefing with journalists, Zients broke the plan down into four buckets. Loosen the restrictions on who can get vaccinated (and when). Set up many more sites where vaccinations can take place. Mobilize more medical personnel to deliver the vaccinations. And use the might of the federal government to increase the vaccine supply by manufacturing whatever is needed, whenever it is needed, to accelerate the effort. “We’re going to throw the full resources and weight of the federal government behind this emergency,” Zients promised.

Most elements of the plan are surprising only because they are not already happening. Biden’s team members intend to use the Federal Emergency Management Agency to set up thousands of vaccination sites in gyms, sports stadiums and community centers, and to deploy mobile vaccination options to reach those who can’t travel or who live in remote places. They want to mobilize the National Guard to staff the effort and ensure that strapped states don’t have to bear the cost. They want to expand who can deliver the vaccine and call up retired medical personnel to aid the campaign. They want to launch a massive public education blitz, aimed at communities skeptical of the vaccine. They’re evaluating how to eke out more doses from the existing supply — there is, for instance, a particular syringe that will get you six doses out of a given quantity of Pfizer’s vaccine rather than five, and they are looking at whether the Defense Production Act could accelerate production of that particular syringe and other, similarly useful goods.

This plan merits, at least for me, a sense of fury: All of this should’ve been done months ago. These are the obvious ideas. We should be considering the hard, but perhaps necessary, decisions that could radically increase supply: using half-doses, for instance, or joining Britain in rapidly approving the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, even though the vaccine’s clinical trial was marred by shaky study design. I’m of the view that the situation is bad enough, and the costs of waiting large enough, that it might be worth moving forward on both counts, even with imperfect information. But those are difficult calls, with real downside risk. That there is so much low-hanging operational fruit for the Biden administration to focus on instead is a tragedy. It means people who could’ve been saved by simple competence and foresight will die instead.

Even now, the Trump administration’s poor planning and inconsistent communication fog the effort. In recent days, there have been reports that states aren’t receiving the vaccine allotments they’ve been promised. Gov. Kate Brown of Oregon tweeted that the leaders of Operation Warp Speed had directly confirmed to her that “states will not be receiving increased shipments of vaccines from the national stockpile next week, because there is no federal reserve of doses.” The mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti, said, “the national supply simply isn’t coming.” When I asked Zients whether the federal government had less vaccine supply than has been promised, he wasn’t able to give an answer. “We’ll conduct a full evaluation when we’re in our seats on supply, but it’s hard for me to say more than that right now, given the lack of information sharing from the Trump administration.”

The incoming administration is also free from the delusion that the vaccines will solve the coronavirus crisis on their own. Even on the most optimistic timetable, it will take until well into the summer for America to reach herd immunity. In the meantime, new variants of the virus that spread even faster are taking hold. Ron Klain, Biden’s choice for chief of staff, warned that the coronavirus death toll in America will pass 500,000 by the end of February. And it will not end there. That is why if you look at the incoming administration’s coronavirus rescue package, most of the money is dedicated to the policies that will let us survive this next year.

Of this, $20 billion is directed at the vaccination effort. Another $50 billion is dedicated to standing up the national testing infrastructure that we should’ve had long ago, with an emphasis on deploying rapid testing for asymptomatic individuals who work in high-risk settings and setting up genomic surveillance so we can see when and how the virus is mutating. Then there’s $130 billion intended to retrofit schools so they can operate safely, even with the virus in circulation.

A year into this crisis, America still hasn’t built a national contact tracing apparatus to track and suppress outbreaks: Biden’s plan calls for hiring more than 100,000 public health workers for national contact tracing, local vaccine outreach and more. Congregant settings, like nursing homes and prisons, have been the sites of particularly vicious outbreaks, and Biden wants to create specialized forces that can be rapidly deployed to such sites to save lives. The list goes on.

None of this — none of it — is interesting or surprising. It’s obvious, and it should’ve been done long ago. Back in May, I wrotethat we were operating, in effect, without a president and without a national plan. It is January, and that remains true. But that will end on the day of Biden’s inauguration. And then the hard work can, finally, begin.

After four years of science-denial, Biden is introducing a new era. Science and facts are in again. Truth matters. No alternative facts. Ignorance and stupidity are no longer honored or tolerable.

President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. said on Saturday that he was “always going to lead with science and truth” as he announced top science and technology officials on his White House staff, reaffirming trust in the kind of expert research that the Trump administration often ignored or disdained.

Extolling what he called “some of the most brilliant minds in the world,” Mr. Biden said his new team’s mission would be to ask: “How can we make the impossible possible?” He vowed to elevate scientific research and thinking on topics like the coronavirus, cancer research, climate change, clean-energy jobs, artificial intelligence, 3-D printing and other fast-advancing technologies.

The appointees included Eric S. Lander, whom Mr. Biden will nominate to be director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, a position that will for the first time hold cabinet rank.

President Trump left the position of science adviser unfilled for 18 months and his administration routinely ignored the guidance of government scientists on issues ranging from the coronavirus pandemic to climate change.

Without specifically mentioning Mr. Trump, Mr. Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris drew an implicit contrast with his administration’s dismissive attitude toward expert opinion.

“The science behind climate change is not a hoax,” Ms. Harris said during the introductions, held at the Queen Theater in Wilmington, Del. “The science behind the virus is not a lie.”

Dr. Lander, who will also serve as presidential science adviser, was a leader of the Human Genome Project. As Dr. Lander’s deputy in the science and technology office, Alondra Nelson, whom was also named by Mr. Biden, is a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study, who has studied the intersection of science with social inequality and race.

Mr. Biden also named two co-chairs of the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology: Frances H. Arnold, the first American woman to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, and Maria Zuber, a geophysics and planetary science expert and the first woman to lead a NASA spacecraft mission.

Mr. Biden also said that Dr. Francis S. Collins would remain as the director of the National Institutes of Health.

John Thompson, historian and retired teacher in Oklahoma, followed the debate about what to do “after COVID,” and he shares his wisdom here.


I’ve been wrestling with two quandaries regarding post-COVID schools. Yes, in the short-run, the tactical use of digital technology has been prioritized, but the longer term priority must be human-to-human relationships. The last thing we want are 21th century schools driven by screen time. So, what can we do to recover from the pandemic which came on the heels of the corporate school reform disaster that was imposed on teachers and students?

Last spring, I timidly made suggestions but I knew that educators were overwhelmed, and it wasn’t time to be pushy about future visions of schooling. It’s unlikely that many of today’s teachers would be allowed to do so, but I used to start my inner city high school classes’ orientation week with music, poetry, and film clips like Amiri Baraka’s “The X is Black,” Bruce Springsteen’s “American Skin,” and Denzel Washington in Cry Freedom, playing Steve Biko, explaining colonialism.

So, if I were still teaching high school, I’d have used much of the spring semester for one-on-one digital and telephone conversations, discussing what each student loves and what each one would love, and get each kid hooked on a genre, artist, musician, or whatever. Surely, it would be easy to sell many kids on great Nature programs, such as the Smithsonian’s new David Attenborough series, or PBS documentaries about the race to the Moon. I’d then focus on each kid learning in depth about the things that enthralled them.

I’d have also started by showing and discussing, and borrowing from great musical and artistic events. I’ve been stunned, and often been left in tears by “Graduate Together: America Honors the High School Class of 2020,” which also featured President Barack Obama; Jason Alexander’s Passover Seder; One World: Together at Home; and 300 singers from 15 countries singing You’ll Never Walk Alone

We also should have learned from Jill Lepore’s history of education during the Great Depression in the New Yorker. Lepore’s “The Last Time Democracy Almost Died” described School Superintendent John Studebaker’s “ambitious plan to get Americans to show up in the same room and argue with one another in the nineteen-thirties.” Starting in Des Moines, Iowa, his idea spread to schools across the nation. We saw what works in our democracy; discussions where “the people of the community of every political affiliation, creed, and economic view have an opportunity to participate freely.”

I’ve also agreed with Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel about the need for outdoor learning. Moreover, we need a 21st century Civilian Conservation Corps where kids learn about global warming, and solutions and career options for battling it.

Similarly, early in the pandemic, John Merrow reminded us, “Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it will take the support of the village to open its public schools.” Merrow recommended two priorities that could not be compromised or negotiated: 1) Keep everyone safe, with frequent testing, social distancing, and adequate PPE; and 2) Create genuine learning opportunities, rather than simply replicating semesters, work sheets, 50-minute periods, and everything else that schools routinely do. He also urged innovation in terms of developing new, safer, and more educationally beneficial learning spaces. Sadly, those conversations, and the timely reopening of in-person instruction were undermined as the reopening of schools was politicized, first by Trumpism, and then by smart and sincere public health experts and journalists who knew little about actual schools. I must emphasize that the overwhelming harm was done by Trump, politicians like Oklahoma’s Gov. Kevin Stitt, and their COVID denialism, mixed with Social Darwinism. But the demand that in-person learning be quickly restored in urban schools also bore a sad resemblance to the corporate school reforms wars. Both were launched by rightwingers seeking to demonize unions and educators. And just as the attacks on public education worsened after Big Data scholars joined the fray, recently attacks on educators for being too cautious in reopening schools haven’t been helpful.

Researchers working for the Billionaires Boys Club often claimed that their statistical models showed that top-down mandates on teachers can improve student performance while, today, some public health experts argued that their data shows that schools can be reopened safely. The question, then and now, is what will likely happen if schools hurriedly follow their advice.

Below are just two examples. An October New York Times report by Apoorva Mandavilli may or may not have been tilted towards a less cautious approach to reopenings. It led with the fact that “so far there is little evidence” community transmission was high. But, the article distinguished between the evidence that in-person instruction of young students can be safe, and the greater possible dangers regarding high school, citing super-spreads in American and Israeli high schools. And the public health expert the Times quoted, Dr. David Rubin, advised, “Rather than closing schools where community transmission is high, businesses like restaurants, bars or other indoor spaces where adults congregate should be shuttered.” But he didn’t take a stand on the question of what schools could safely do in cities where that public health wisdom was ignored.

The real problem was with the article’s title and subtitle which went far beyond the evidence in it presented:

Schoolchildren Seem Unlikely to Fuel Coronavirus Surges, Scientists Say:

Researchers once feared that school reopenings might spread the virus through communities. But so far there is little evidence that it’s happening.

After those sorts of optimistic assertions before Thanksgiving, it would have been nice if experts and newspapers would have acknowledged how much the situations have changed as holidays dramatically increased the super-spread. I also believe educators deserved an apology for those over-simplified commentaries. If anything, however, many commentators have doubled down on their criticisms of urban educators’ caution.

For instance, I respect Nick Kristof, and I loved Tightrope, which he and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn recently published. And he no longer claims to be “infatuated” with Bill Gates, and to trust the teacher bashing “quick fixes” pushed by edu-philanthropists and their data-driven researchers. But Kristof went from his recommendation in May that we “cautiously open some schools” to arguing that we have been “too willing to close schools” in an article entitled, “When Trump Was Right and Many Democrats Wrong.”

So, now we may need to be more blunt in presenting the educators’ case, as Erika Christakes was in her Atlantic article, “School Wasn’t So Great Before COVID, Either.” (I must emphasize that she isn’t making the Nation at Risk or No Child Left Behind case that schools are broken; on the contrary, she wants to fix the damage done by those “Reforms.”)

Christakes begins with the truth that I haven’t wanted to bring up, “Yes, remote schooling has been a misery—but it’s offering a rare chance to rethink early education entirely.”

She writes:

All of the challenges of educating young children that we have minimized for years have suddenly appeared like flotsam on a beach at low tide, reeking and impossible to ignore.” But, she reminds us that beginning with No Child Left Behind, Schools have—quite irrationally—abandoned this breadth [holistic instruction] in favor of stripped-down programs focused on narrow testing metrics.

So, Christakes writes:

A good start would be to include a broader and deeper curriculum with more chances for children to explore, play, and build relationships with peers and teachers. Schools should also be in the business of fostering curiosity and a love of learning in all children, or at a minimum not impeding the development of those traits. This is a low educational bar but one that is too often not cleared, as the millions of American adults who are functionally illiterate might suggest.

Like Emanuel and Merrow implied, Christakes says, “The most obvious demand should be for more time outside.” She draws on the history of the early 20th century, when “tuberculosis outbreaks led many American schools to successfully adopt outdoor teaching.”

As we should have realized before winter, outdoor transmission of COVID‑19 is far less likely than indoor spread, and it offers an alternative to the drill-and-kill that corporate reforms revitalized. Moreover, “Years of accumulating evidence reveal concretely measurable benefits of nature-based learning and outdoor time for young children.” It can be more effective than instruction in the classroom, and it builds on what “we know about nature’s positive impact on mental health, attention span, academic outcomes, physical fitness, and self-regulation.

And that leads to Merrow’s recent advice to “please please please, do not try to ‘get back to normal.’” He suggests the making of “institution more democratic (small d),” and giving students “more agency over their own learning.” Since “social and emotional learning may matter more than book-learning for these first weeks and months,” we must “give kids time and space to get accustomed to being with peers, even socially distanced, for the first time in many months,” as well as “lots of free play.” Merrow would also move away from age segregation and group children instead according to the interests and their level of accomplishment, and “Finally, NO hand-wringing about ‘remediation’ or ‘learning loss,’ because that’s blaming the victim, big time.”

As 2021 begins, I hope the Biden administration can foster the unity that our schools need. I hope we won’t see the revival of corporate reformers’ “blame game.” Regardless, we need a more humane vision of post-pandemic schools and, I’m afraid, we may need to fight for it once again.

As of this writing, at least 340,000 people have died of COVID.

Washington Post reporters wrote a comprehensive account of how Donald Trump bungled the federal government’s response to the pandemic and made the number of infections and deaths far worse than they should have been if we had had competent leadership. The story was published on December 19. We know that Trump encouraged people not to pay attention to science. We know that he called on his base to “liberate” states that were trying to get control of the coronavirus. We know he refused to wear a mask, the simplest measure to slow the spread of the virus. When you read this story, you will realize that Trump’s decision to politicize mask-wearing was intentional. When Trump realized that he could not “beat” the virus, he lost interest in stopping or slowing it. He thought it was a “loser” issue. He lost interest. Many lost their lives.

Yasmeen AbutalebAshley ParkerJosh Dawsey and Philip Rucker wrote the following story:

As the number of coronavirus cases ticked upward in mid-November — worse than the frightening days of spring and ahead of an expected surge after families congregated for Thanksgiving — four doctors on President Trump’s task force decided to stage an intervention.

After their warnings had gone largely unheeded for months in the dormant West Wing, Deborah Birx, Anthony S. Fauci, Stephen Hahn and Robert Redfield together sounded new alarms, cautioning of a dark winter to come without dramatic action to slow community spread.

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, among the many Trump aides who were infected with the virus this fall, was taken aback, according to three senior administration officials with knowledge of the discussions. He told the doctors he did not believe their troubling data assessment. And he accused them of outlining problems without prescribing solutions.

The doctors explained that the solutions were simple and had long been clear — among them, to leverage the power of the presidential bully pulpit to persuade all Americans to wear masks, especially the legions of Trump supporters refusing to do so, and to dramatically expand testing.

“It was something that we were almost repetitively saying whenever we would get into the Situation Room,” said Fauci, who directs the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “Whenever we got the opportunity to say, ‘This is really going to be a problem because the baseline of infections was really quite high to begin with, so you had a lot of community spread.’ ”

On Nov. 19, hours after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised against Thanksgiving travel, Vice President Pence, who chairs the coronavirus task force, agreed to hold a full news conference with some of the doctors — something they had not done since the summer. But much to the doctors’ dismay, Pence did not forcefully implore people to wear masks, nor did the administration take meaningful action on testing.

As for the president, he did not appear at all.

Trump went days without mentioning the pandemic other than to celebrate progress on vaccines. The president by then had abdicated his responsibility to manage the public health crisis and instead used his megaphone almost exclusively to spread misinformation in a failed attempt to overturn the results of the election he lost to President-elect Joe Biden.

“I think he’s just done with covid,” said one of Trump’s closest advisers who, like many others interviewed for this story, spoke on the condition of anonymity to candidly discuss internal deliberations and operations. “I think he put it on a timetable and he’s done with covid. . . . It just exceeded the amount of time he gave it.”

Now, a month later, the number of coronavirus cases in the United States is reaching records daily. The nation’s death count is rising steadily as well, this past week surpassing 300,000 — a total that had seemed unfathomable earlier this year. The dark winter is here, hospitalizations risk breaching capacities, and health professionals predict it will get worse before it gets better.

The miraculous arrival of a coronavirus vaccine this past week marks the first glimmer of hope amid a pandemic that for 10 months has ravaged the country, decimated its economy and fundamentally altered social interactions.

Yet that triumph of scientific ingenuity and bureaucratic efficiency does not conceal the difficult truth, that the virus has caused proportionately more infections and deaths in the United States than in most other developed nations — a result, experts say, of a dysfunctional federal response led by a president perpetually in denial.

“We were always going to have spread in the fall and the winter, but it didn’t have to be nearly this bad,” said Scott Gottlieb, a former FDA commissioner in the Trump administration. “We could have done better galvanizing collective action, getting more adherence to masks. The idea that we had this national debate on the question of whether masks infringed on your liberty was deeply unfortunate. It put us in a bad position.”

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, one of the few Republican elected officials who have criticized Trump’s handling of the pandemic, said many in the administration are working hard to control the alarming November-to-December surge, but not the man at the top.

“My concern was, in the worst part of the battle, the general was missing in action,” Hogan said of the recent surge.

The story of how America arrived at this final season of devastation, with the reported death toll some days surpassing 3,000 people — a new 9/11 day after day — is based on interviews over the past month with 48 senior administration officials, government health professionals, outside presidential advisers and other people briefed on the inner workings of the federal response.

The catastrophe began with Trump’s initial refusal to take seriously the threat of a once-in-a-century pandemic. But, as officials detailed, it has been compounded over time by a host of damaging presidential traits — his skepticism of science, impatience with health restrictions, prioritization of personal politics over public safety, undisciplined communications, chaotic management style, indulgence of conspiracies, proclivity toward magical thinking, allowance of turf wars and flagrant disregard for the well-being of those around him.

“There isn’t a single light-switch moment where the government has screwed up and we’re going down the wrong path,” said Kyle McGowan, who resigned in August as chief of staff at the CDC under Redfield, the center’s director. “It was a series of multiple decisions that showed a lack of desire to listen to the actual scientists and also a lack of leadership in general, and that put us on this progression of where we’re at today.”

‘Words matter’

Trump’s defenders say the president and his administration deserve credit not only for Operation Warp Speed — the public-private initiative to develop, test and now distribute vaccines — but also for their work early on to address a shortage of ventilators, ease supply-chain delays for personal protective equipment and set guidelines for businesses and other gathering places to reopen after the March and April shutdowns.

They also point to Trump’s decision in late January to restrict travel from China, where the virus originated. And they say they’re not sure what Trump should have done differently.

“President Trump has led a historic, whole-of-America coronavirus response — resulting in 100,000 ventilators procured, an abundance of critical PPE sourced for our frontline heroes, the largest testing regime in the world, groundbreaking treatments, and a safe and effective vaccine in record time with another to be approved in the coming days,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Matthews said in a statement. She went on to attribute the success of vaccines to Trump’s “bold and innovative leadership.”

Still, the administration’s overall response is likely to be scrutinized for years to come as a case study in crisis mismanagement. At the heart of the problem, experts say, have been Trump’s scrambled and faulty communications.

“Words matter a lot, and what we have here is a failure to communicate — and worse than that, the effective communication of policies, of myths, of confusion about masks, about hydroxychloroquine, about vaccines, about closures, about testing,” said Tom Frieden, a former CDC director in the Obama administration. “It’s stunning.”

Trump’s repeated downplaying of the virus, coupled with his equivocations about masks, created an opening for reckless behavior that contributed to a significant increase in infections and deaths, experts said.

“The central and most important thing we needed was national leadership from the president to be able to really lead with empathy,” said Anita Cicero, deputy director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “It seemed much more focused on the administration as the lead character, rather than communities in need.”

A hallmark of the response has been the secrecy of some in the White House, including Meadows, whom other officials described as outright hostile in his denial of the virus and punitive toward colleagues who sought to follow public health guidelines or be transparent.

As the virus spread wildly among White House staff this fall, Meadows sought to conceal some cases from becoming public — including, at first, his own — and instructed at least one fellow adviser who sought to disclose an infection not to.

In addition, Meadows threatened to fire White House Medical Unit doctors, who fall below the chief of staff in the chain of command, if they helped release information about new infections, according to one official. Ben Williamson, an aide to Meadows, said it was “false” that the chief of staff ever threatened to terminate doctors.

Meadows argued internally, according to this official, that the White House was “under no obligation to tell the press or the public that Joe Schmo who works in the White House has tested positive.”

Despite shunning recommended protocols internally, Trump aides speak with pride about the actions they took on the pandemic and are incredulous that their work has been so widely panned.

One senior administration official involved in the response said what was accomplished in less than a year — from producing and distributing protective gear to creating vaccines — is nothing short of remarkable. But, this official acknowledged, “The way it was messaged, unfortunately, was flawed.”

A second senior administration official said, “I’m not clear on what Trump should have done different, but put me in the camp of, well, something, because it has not been a success.”

Olivia Troye, a former Pence adviser and task force aide who resigned in the summer and campaigned against Trump’s reelection, said the nation’s trauma is a result of the president’s mismanagement of the crisis early on, and is being prolonged by his disinterest in it now.

‘It was whack-a-mole’

Tucker Carlson arrived at Trump’s private Mar-a-Lago Club the first Saturday in March, before cities started shutting down, on an urgent mission: to convey to the president the seriousness of the coronavirus threat.

Carlson’s message was simple but pointed. He warned the president that the virus was real, that people he knew were going to get it, that the country might have already missed the point at which they could control it and, as he later told Vanity Fair, that “this could be really bad.”

But Carlson and the president ultimately talked past one another, said a person familiar with the conversation. Carlson told Trump he could lose the election because of the virus, and Trump argued that the virus was less deadly than people were claiming.

The scene at Mar-a-Lago that weekend underscored the concerns. Far from taking any precautions, Trump that Saturday dined with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and his delegation — several of whom later tested positive for the virus — while Donald Trump Jr.’s girlfriend, Kimberly Guilfoyle, threw herself a lavish 51st birthday party at the club. The next day, Trump hosted a fundraising brunch with about 900 attendees.

“I would love to say that I’m shocked, but I’m not,” Troye said. “This is in keeping with everything he has been.” She added: “People are still dying every day. There’s thousands of cases every day and yet he won’t do the right thing. . . . To see a sitting president directly refuse to help during a crisis is just flabbergasting to me.”

Paul A. Offit, who is director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, a professor of vaccinology at the University of Pennsylvania and a member of the FDA’s vaccine advisory council, said of Trump: “He’s a salesman, but this is something he can’t sell. So he just gave up. He gave up on trying to sell people something that was unsellable.”

On Friday morning, in a tableau orchestrated to provide hope to a beleaguered nation, Pence and second lady Karen Pence received the Pfizer vaccine — a needle in his left shoulder as they sat beneath a sign that read, “SAFE and EFFECTIVE,” broadcast live on national television.

Trump was nowhere to be seen.

As the country began to shut down in March, Trump and his administration found themselves in the early throes of denial and dysfunction. Despite the warnings of Carlson and others, Trump continued to downplay the severity of the virus, and turf wars and unclear chains of command roiled the administration’s fledgling response.

Public health advisers and other administration officials were left scrambling — scattershot, and with little clear direction — to recoup time squandered.

Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser who had spent the early days of 2020 focused on other challenges in his overly large portfolio — including a Middle East peace plan and overseeing Trump’s reelection campaign — turned his attention to the virus.

Kushner’s allies and even some of his critics say he was effective in helping cut through bureaucracy — ensuring, for instance, that states eventually had as many ventilators as they needed. A text or call to Kushner could yield a clear response or directive in just minutes, said one senior administration official, and shortly after Pence was appointed head of the coronavirus task force his chief of staff, Marc Short, enlisted Kushner’s help to streamline resources and speed up response times.

But the help Kushner provided was often ad hoc rather than part of a long-term strategy, according to people familiar with his role.

“It was entirely tactical troubleshooting and, to be fair, it was pretty successful, with the ventilators and this and that, but it was whack-a-mole,” said an outside Republican in frequent touch with the White House.

Part of Kushner’s coronavirus management approach was an ambitious effort to bring in a cadre of young consultants from the private sector as volunteers. The group was dismissively referred to as the “Slim Suit” crowd.

“[Kushner] is like, ‘I’m going to bring in my data and we’re going to MBA this to death and make it work,’ ” one senior administration official said.

But problems quickly emerged with Kushner’s team of volunteers. The group was not issued government laptops or emails, forcing them to use their personal Gmail addresses — a practice that often hindered their efforts to procure personal protective equipment from companies that were understandably skeptical of inquiries coming from nongovernment email accounts. The volunteers in charge of PPE procurement also did not know the Food and Drug Administration requirements for importing the protective equipment, and found themselves spending unnecessary time Googling basic questions and calling the FDA for guidance.

Max Kennedy Jr., a senior associate at a private growth equity firm when he joined Kushner’s effort as a volunteer, was so alarmed by what he witnessed that he initially filed an anonymous whistleblower report.

Among his complaints was a culture that prioritized tips and leads from VIPs, which consumed an inordinate amount of the volunteers’ time and energy. Kennedy wrote in his report that Jeanine Pirro, a Trump booster who hosts a Fox News show, “repeatedly called and emailed until 100,000 masks were sent to a particular hospital she favored. No checks were completed to ensure that the hospital was in particular need of PPE.”

Kennedy, a lifelong Democrat and a grandson of Robert F. Kennedy, later revealed his identity and, in an interview with The Washington Post, described a group of smart and earnest volunteers who were, at best, out of their depth and, at worst, asked to do things they felt uncomfortable doing.

Kennedy said that Brad Smith, the director of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation and a friend of Kushner, asked him and another volunteer to make a coronavirus model for 2020 that specifically projected a low casualty count. When Kennedy noted that he had no training in epidemiology and had never modeled a virus before, he recalled, Smith told him that it was just like making a financial model. The other models made by the health experts, Smith explained, were “too catastrophic.”

“‘They think 250,000 people could die and I want this model to show that fewer than 100,000 people will die in the worst-case scenario,’ ” Kennedy said Smith told him. “He gave us the numbers he wanted it to say.”

Kennedy and the other volunteer refused to make the model. But he said the incident left him discomfited.

“[Smith] said, ‘Look around. Does it look like 250,000 people are going to die? I don’t think so,’ ” Kennedy recounted. “And I remember thinking it was a weird thing to say because we were surrounded by military officers in the [Federal Emergency Management Agency] basement and it did look like a lot of people might die.”

In an emailed statement, Smith denied asking Kennedy and a fellow volunteer to create a low fatality model.

“The only model I asked the team to build in the three weeks Max volunteered was a model to project PPE needs through July 2020,” Smith said. “To calculate PPE needs, the model used hospitalizations and deaths as inputs. The mean version of the model assumed 169,000 deaths by July 2020 and the worst case version of the model assumed 312,000 deaths by July 2020. According to the CDC, there were approximately 160,000 deaths as of July 30, so the model’s assumptions proved to be very accurate.”

There were other problems too. Kushner’s initiative to stand up drive-through testing sites nationwide at retail stores such as CVS, Target and Walgreens, for instance, may have been a good idea in theory but almost instantly raised concerns. Government officials asked Kushner and his team whether they had fully considered the logistical and supply issues behind setting up the sites — including swabs and reagents for tests, and protective equipment for the clinicians administering them.

Kushner’s team responded that they had it covered, but it quickly became clear they did not. At a time when health-care workers were using garbage bags as gowns and reusing N95 masks because of severe shortages, roughly 30 percent of “key supplies,” including masks, in the national stockpile of emergency medical equipment went toward Kushner’s testing effort, according to an internal March planning document obtained by The Post and confirmed by one current and one former administration official.

Though Kushner had initially promised thousands of testing sites, only 78 materialized, the document said, and the national stockpile was used to supply more than half of those.

“The knock against Jared has always been that he’s a dilettante who will dabble in this and dabble in that without doing the homework or really engaging in a long-term, sustained, committed way, but will be there to claim credit if things go well and disappear if things go poorly,” a former senior administration official said. “And this is another example of that.”

By the summer, Trump had grown angry with Kushner over problems with testing, said current and former administration officials — a rare conflict between the president and his son-in-law.

Matthews defended Kushner’s testing initiative, saying there are now more than 6,000 retail testing sites and that the federal government has established more than 500 temporary surge testing sites in 17 states over the past 10 months.

At the beginning of the outbreak, the United States failed to deploy a coronavirus diagnostic test across the country so state and local officials could quickly detect and trace confirmed cases. And while the administration eventually scaled up testing considerably — more than 1.5 million tests a day are now being conducted — it still has not developed a national testing strategy. Even as more tests have become available, experts said, there have rarely been enough for the scale of the pandemic.

“Compared to other countries, the biggest mistake we made was in testing,” said Katrina Armstrong, a physician and chief of Massachusetts General Hospital who has been treating coronavirus patients. “It’s not even a hard test, and we whiffed it. There should be central leadership bringing everything together. For the clinical side, not having access to testing early on and through the summer was the biggest tragedy of what got us here.”

The best chance to control an outbreak is at the very beginning. But U.S. officials squandered that opportunity in February for two key reasons. The first was the CDC’s failure to deploy a working coronavirus test, and the second was the task force’s almost singular focus on repatriating Americans from China and cruise ships, rather than on preparing the United States for an inevitable outbreak.

A review of task force agendas from that time demonstrates a disproportionate focus on cruise ships, masks and other bureaucratic and logistical issues, rather than on more practical public health steps such as testing, contact tracing and targeted efforts to prevent the virus’s spread. That allowed the virus to spread undetected for all of February, several officials and experts said, as it seeded itself in New York, Washington state, California, New Orleans and other populous areas. And from then on, the country was perpetually behind the virus.

Kennedy said his experience volunteering in the White House left him disillusioned.

“I don’t think this has to be a politicized crisis,” Kennedy said. “This pandemic is incredibly tragic and, as someone who was in the room, it was very clear it wasn’t taken seriously. It was well understood what measures could be taken to save lives, to reduce the severity of the pandemic, and the administration and Jared Kushner made an active choice not to pursue those actions.”

‘A loser message’

As the virus began to rage across the United States, some of the nation’s health officials had a novel idea. Face coverings were emerging as one of the simplest tools available to control the contagion’s spread. So Robert Kadlec, the assistant secretary for preparedness and response at the Department of Health and Human Services, called Jerry Cook, an executive at the cotton clothing giant Hanes, on March 13 to discuss producing enough masks to send to every American household, according to two senior administration officials.

Cook pulled together a number of underwear makers, including Fruit of the Loom, SanMar, Beverly Knits and Delta Apparel, to figure out how to redirect their manufacturing operations to manufacture 650 million three-ply cotton masks — enough to send a packet of five to each household. The masks would bear an HHS logo, contain a microbiocide that would kill the virus, and say: “Do your part, help stop the spread.”

A command group at FEMA unanimously approved the plan, and the task force doctors did as well. Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, saw the white prototypes and asked if they could be made in a neutral tone.

But when Kadlec’s boss, HHS Secretary Alex Azar, began to pitch it at a White House task force meeting in March, there was sharp dissent. Several on the task force generally did not have much confidence in Kadlec, and a senior administration official said his plan was half-baked and that he was unable to answer basic questions, like how much the effort would cost or how they would deliver all the masks.

Short abruptly stopped the conversation and told Pence the idea wasn’t ready and was being pulled off the agenda. Other officials complained that the masks looked like underwear, according to three current and former senior administration officials. Peter T. Gaynor, the FEMA administrator, compared them to jockstraps.

Then there was the issue of logistics. For months leading up to the pandemic, Trump had been attacking the U.S. Postal Service and airing grievances over its business relationship with Amazon. Some aides surmised that, for Trump, a private-public partnership involving the Postal Service as the distributor would be a nonstarter.

The mail-a-mask plan was killed. The Office of Management and Budget tried to cancel the contracts with the underwear makers, but the masks still were produced and distributed to health clinics, religious groups and states that requested them. Hanes did not respond to a request for comment.

Kadlec was so frustrated that he decided his time as preparedness and response chief was no longer best spent on preparing and responding, so he focused instead on vaccines and therapeutics.

Skepticism of masks became a hallmark of the Trump administration’s pandemic response. On April 3, when the CDC recommended that all Americans wear masks, Trump announced that he would not do so because he could not envision himself sitting behind the Resolute Desk with his face covered as he greeted visiting dignitaries. The president stressed that mask-wearing was “voluntary,” effectively permitting his legions of followers to disregard the CDC’s recommendation.

In the months that followed, Trump was only seen wearing a mask on rare occasions, instead following the advice of Stephen Miller, Johnny McEntee, Derek Lyons and other trusted aides to think of masks as a cultural wedge issue.

Pence covered his face with somewhat more regularity than the president, but after forgoing a mask during an April 28 visit to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, he drew a public rebuke from the hospital’s leaders. Short then yelled at a hospital official over it, a person with knowledge of the visit said.

“What the Trump administration has managed to do is they accomplished — remarkably — a very high-tech solution, which is developing a vaccine, but they completely failed at the low-tech solution, which is masking and social distancing, and they put people at risk,” Offit said.

Trump did not imagine the coronavirus would consume the fourth year of his presidency. When he established a task force in January, he assumed it would not last long and that the crisis would subside relatively quickly, according to two officials with knowledge of the situation. These officials said the president selected Pence, the favorite of then-acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, for chair of the task force over Gottlieb and former New Jersey governor Chris Christie.

In retrospect, according to a senior administration official, Trump’s biggest political miscalculation was basing the task force in the White House. “Once you put it in the Situation Room, the president owns every failure, leak, whatever, whereas this could have been an Azar, Redfield, Hahn problem,” this official said.

In the early weeks, Pence was the frontman at daily coronavirus news conferences. He provided top-line updates, including case and death counts, before turning it over to Fauci, Birx and other health professionals. Short advised the vice president against detailing such dire statistics, but Pence insisted, believing he was obligated to share such facts with the public, according to another official with knowledge of these discussions.

Over time, however, Trump decided he wanted to be the face of the government’s response, so he took over Pence’s role at the briefings. A number of Republican senators privately counseled the president to let the doctors be out front, according to a senior Republican congressional official, but “Trump just couldn’t let someone else get all that attention.”

Trump’s performances were riddled with misinformation, contradictions and indecorous boasts, while also predicting miracles and promoting cure-all therapeutics. Trump often said he was trying to be a “cheerleader” for the country, and a senior administration official explained that the president has said he drew lessons from Norman Vincent Peale’s “The Power of Positive Thinking.”

“What he’s saying there is, ‘I’m going to will the economy to success through mass psychology. We’re going to tell the country things are going great and it’s going to be a self-fulfilling prophecy,’ ” this official said of Trump.

But there were consequences for Trump’s often too-rosy takes. Hogan — who as chairman of the National Governors Association helped lead regular meetings among governors and task force members, sometimes including Trump — said there was “a huge disconnect” between what was agreed to by Pence and members of the task force and what the president told the public.

“We would have a great meeting that might have lasted an hour or two with all the top folks focused on the virus, and then the president would have one of those rambling press conferences that went on maybe an hour too long and he said the opposite of what others in the administration told us that day,” Hogan recalled.

The Maryland governor, one of the rare Republicans who seemed unafraid to challenge Trump, said he directly confronted the president in some of these sessions about what was not working.

“I pushed back very hard when there was no testing program and there was no availability of basic supplies, like swabs and tubes and testing agents and ventilators,” Hogan said. “There were a few times the president bristled when I wasn’t saying everything was great. . . . One time the president said on a call, ‘You’re not being very nice to me.’ I said, ‘No, Mr. President, I’m always nice. I’m just telling you what the governors see.’ ”

The White House also made governors’ jobs more difficult by interfering at the CDC, which was forced to water down reopening guidelines for businesses, schools, restaurants and other facilities after a cadre of White House and administration officials weighed in with suggestions that were not based on science.

By late spring — after he infamously suggested people ingest bleach to cure themselves of the virus — Trump stopped appearing at coronavirus briefings. Meadows is among those credited with pulling the plug.

“He felt it was a loser message,” said one senior administration official with knowledge of Meadows’s thinking. “So why message on covid?”

‘A MAGA perspective’

Scott Atlas found himself in Trump’s orbit the way so many do: through the television screen.

A neuroradiologist with no infectious-disease or public health background, Atlas joined the coronavirus response team in August as a special government employee, after a few senior Trump advisers — Kushner, McEntee and Hope Hicks — were impressed by his appearances on cable news.

Atlas began working out of Kushner’s office suite, and quickly scored a blue badge — the most coveted level of White House access — and a spot on the coronavirus task force. Though many were skeptical of him, the vice president’s team felt that if Atlas was going to be part of the virus response, then he needed to be a full-fledged member of the effort, said two people familiar with the decision.

Atlas pushed a controversial “herd immunity” strategy — of letting the virus spread freely among the young and healthy — and clashed with others on the task force, many of whom described him as combative and condescending. He lorded his seemingly unfettered access to the president over the group and, as one senior adviser said, “The science just got totally perverted with Scott in the room.”

Atlas, who resigned Nov. 30, defended his advice to Trump as “based on the best available science and data at the time” and said he sought to reduce both the virus spread and what he called “structural harms.” In a lengthy emailed statement, Atlas denied much of The Post’s reporting about his work in the administration, including that he had described those with the coronavirus in derisive or demeaning terms.

“I am very disappointed to see more totally false statements and patently absurd lies about me,” Atlas said. “Although I don’t intend to weigh-in on every false and defamatory story or allow myself to be endlessly used as a political piñata, I firmly deny the false accusations that, as a special advisor to the President, I advocated for ‘herd immunity’ via letting the infection spread as a scientific approach to the pandemic. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Even those inclined to be sympathetic to Atlas’s coronavirus theory — that the virus mainly affected the most vulnerable, who were the only ones who truly needed protection — found his personal manner off-putting, said one senior administration official. And privately, Atlas often argued his case more crudely, bluntly saying coronavirus was a disease that only affected the overweight, the diabetic and the elderly, the other adviser said.

But Trump liked Atlas — and the shoddy science he was peddling seemingly bolstered the president’s optimism. Atlas’s appeal to Trump, this adviser explained, was that he “had a doctor title but a MAGA perspective,” referring to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.

Atlas’s presence, however, frustrated much of the rest of the group, especially the public health experts who feared he was undermining their hard-fought efforts to keep the public safe.

“If you ever wanted to spread confusion and give license to the people in the cities and states who did not want to abide by any of the public health measures, you gave them license to do it,” Fauci said. “They could say, ‘Look, this guy who’s a well-respected Stanford person who the president seems to like is saying this thing; why should we listen to Fauci?’ I think he was disruptive to what Birx and I were trying to do.”

The addition of Atlas to the coronavirus task force was just the latest iteration of the infighting that had plagued the virus response all along. He clashed with the other doctors, but especially with Birx.

One early dispute was over testing. At the time, the president was pushing to move away from the widespread testing recommended by health experts and toward more narrow surveillance testing in vulnerable communities. Atlas and Birx fought over the issue in the Oval Office, with Birx — who was backed up by Redfield — advising that widespread testing was the best way to catch new cases, a senior administration official said.

In August, the CDC put out revised testing guidelines that were more in line with Atlas’s view than Birx’s, only to walk them back after a public outcry.

During another task force meeting, Atlas argued that it would be reasonable to consider substantially fewer mitigation efforts, allowing people to become infected. Instead, Atlas said, officials should focus their efforts on protecting those in nursing homes. Birx retorted that the vulnerable were not only in nursing homes, prompting agreement by other doctors in the group.

“Dr. Scott Atlas has caused people to lose their lives because he stood at the White House podium and told people masks may not work and he told people we should get over it and build up herd immunity,” said McGowan, the former CDC chief of staff. “He’s telling the world lies from a bully pulpit, from a position of power, and I believe people died because of that.”

Some of Trump’s advisers tried to convey to the president how much his reelection might hinge on the pandemic. Being seen as a responsible, empathetic leader in a moment of crisis, they explained, would buoy his chances of victory.

For instance, internal campaign data from pollster Tony Fabrizio found that in July, just 40 percent of voters approved of Trump’s handling of the virus and 58 percent disapproved, a deficit of 18 percentage points. Among independents, the gap grew to 30 percentage points, according to a senior campaign adviser.

According to an internal polling memo obtained by The Post, more than 70 percent of voters in target states supported “mandatory masks at least indoors when in public, and even a majority of Republicans support this.”

Though Republicans were not keen on the idea of an executive order for mask-wearing, they were less opposed to an order that applied only indoors, the internal polling found. And, as one of the slides reviewed by The Post read, “Voters favor mask-wearing while keeping the economy open,” and also favor Trump “issuing an executive order mandating the use of masks in public places.”

Given those findings, Fabrizio, Kushner, then-campaign manager Brad Parscale and others urged Trump to model good behavior by wearing a mask, and to encourage his supporters to do so as well, several Trump advisers said. But the president was unreceptive, as was Meadows.

“He was of the opinion that it would hurt his base,” the senior campaign adviser said. “He listened and it just didn’t move him. The argument just didn’t move him.”

The president and some on his team were also increasingly frustrated with Fauci, who frequently appeared in the media offering what they viewed as an overly alarmist public health message. “Fauci was probably Joe Biden’s most effective campaign surrogate on the trail in 2020,” said Jason Miller, a senior campaign adviser.

Trump aides added that there also was little pushback to the idea of Trump resuming large rallies — without social distancing or mask requirements. The few advisers who did counsel caution were largely ignored, with allies arguing that rallies were key to the president’s brand and that the raucous events also helped improve his mood.

“My attitude was, how are voters going to take us seriously that we’re taking this seriously if we’re doing things where the perception is we’re putting people at risk?” the senior adviser said. “It surely undermines.”

‘We’re in trouble’

As summer turned to fall, Birx — whose calming guidance and elegant scarves had inspired online memes — found herself silenced and increasingly minimized in the coronavirus response.

Atlas succeeded in sidelining her from Trump’s immediate orbit. Her national television appearances all but vanished. She traveled to dozens of states and had unfiltered conversations with governors and local officials, but was denied the time she wanted with the president to keep him abreast of the facts. And her warnings fell on deaf ears inside the West Wing.

“She would circulate her daily report, and more often than not, there would be no responses from anyone on the email,” a senior administration official recalled. “I remember there were times where she would flag something massive, like, we are within weeks of a massive remdesivir shortage, and no one would reply.”

Birx met either in person or virtually with Fauci and other doctors on the task force at least once a week to discuss the science and support each other as they were being ignored at the White House. They plotted alternative ways to get their messages to the public, including through Birx’s travels to states.

But Birx was undermined there, too. After she advised Florida’s political leaders in August to close bars and restrict indoor dining, Atlas visited the state and contradicted her. Atlas told Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and other local leaders to focus less on widespread testing and instead to direct their efforts to opening the economy back up and opening schools, according to two senior administration officials.

As it became clear the pandemic was worsening and the country was headed for a disastrous winter, Atlas dismissed Birx’s projections in task force meetings and in private discussions with Trump and Pence. This pushed Birx to be more outspoken, especially in the reports she and her small team put together, some of which took on a grim tone, officials said.

“It was almost like she wanted to make sure she had a paper trail saying, ‘I, too, think we’re in trouble,’ ” another senior administration official said. “It was a combination of events that pushed her to change her tune and be much more realistic about the seriousness of what was going on.”

The rise in cases and deaths in November coincided with a drop in visibility from Trump and Pence. Following the Nov. 3 election, the two went many days without public appearances. Whenever the president did speak or weigh in on Twitter, it was usually about his desire to overturn the election results, not about the worsening pandemic.

As for Pence, one consistent criticism was his reluctance to deliver tough news and dire coronavirus statistics to the president. As one former senior administration official put it, “He knows, like everybody else knows, that covid is the last thing Trump wants to hear about or see anybody making news about. If not touting Operation Warp Speed, it’s the topic that shall not be spoken of.” A senior administration official and Pence ally, however, said Pence always shared the daily reality with Trump but, as a perpetual optimist, often did so with a positive spin.

The president and vice president did make a couple of appearances to tout vaccine breakthroughs. But much to the frustration of health officials, they did little to leverage their influence with the 74 million Americans who had just voted for them to persuade people to make sacrifices to stop the spread.

“There are tens of millions of people who fundamentally don’t have the same perception of reality when it comes to the virus,” Frieden said. “There are always going to be people who are suspicious and paranoid and believe in UFOs or whatever, but because we’re not on the same page on covid, it’s very hard to get people to act together.”

The week before Thanksgiving, health officials fanned out to plead with Americans not to travel over the holiday. Fauci practically begged people in an appearance on ABC’s “Good Morning America” to stay home and not interact with people outside their immediate household.

But even America’s most famous doctor, one with an approval rating well north of Trump’s, was unconvincing to many. More than 3 million people were screened at U.S. airports in a three-day period just before Thanksgiving, according to the Transportation Security Administration. AAA projected that an additional 48 million people would travel by car around the holiday.

That nonchalance about spreading the virus carried this month into the White House, where Trump and first lady Melania Trump hosted a traditional series of elaborate holiday parties.

Night after night, the Trumps had party guests congregate inside the White House residence to mix, mingle and hear the president speak — each clinking of champagne flutes a potential superspreader moment.

“Here, you have Fauci and Birx saying: wear a mask, keep your distance, avoid congregate settings and indoor crowds, particularly indoors,” a senior administration official said. “And then you have these events at the White House where nobody is wearing a mask, they’re having an event inside and then coming outside, if there ever was a complete confusion of messages.”

Pence and second lady Karen Pence also hosted holiday parties at the Naval Observatory, where pictures from one such event earlier this month showed hundreds of guests mingling mostly maskless underneath an enclosed tent. Even Pence himself, the head of the coronavirus task force, did not wear a mask.

Members of military bands, servers and others were forced to work and exposed for hours to guests who were not wearing masks, officials said.

At least one worker who got infected never heard from anyone in the White House about the illness. They were replaced for the next party.

GregB. is one of our best-read commenters. He is well-informed and wise.

He writes:

I’ve posted this a few times over the years of commenting here, so I figure this is a good place to do it again. It’s a summation of my opinion of my favorite book on science, Carl Sagan’s The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark:

In this valedictory statement of scientific philosophy, Sagan elevates the idea and relevance of the scientific method in our daily and public lives. It is not something to “believe in,” it is a way of looking at the world with healthy skepticism and pragmatic attention to systematic, verified observation. “Science invites us to let the facts in, even when they don’t conform to our preconceptions.” (We don’t “believe in,” for example, climate change; we make decisions to accept the validity about the prevailing scientific research and interpretation of its findings.) Sagan uses examples in history including UFOs, superstitions, dragons and other mythical monsters, and a variety of other topics to explain how science has demonstrated these things do not exist and why we should not live in fear of them. He tackles those who promote anti-science such as fake approaches to treating and “curing” diseases, how to engage in the “The Fine Art of Baloney Detection,” and how public figures use these things to distort public dialogues about policy.

But the one thing that makes this book so special to me is Sagan’s connection of science to the civic education and engagement that is required of citizens in the modern world, which are essential if we are to be free. I think it worth quoting the final paragraph of this, the last book he wrote in his life, something he wrote when he knew had, at best, a few short months to live. These are quite literally the last public words of the greatest scientific communicator who has ever lived:

Education on the value of free speech and the other freedoms reserved by the Bill of Rights, about what happens when you don’t have them, and about how to exercise and protect them, should be an essential prerequisite for being an American citizen—or indeed a citizen of any nation, the more so to the degree that such rights remain unprotected. If we can’t think for ourselves, if we’re unwilling to question authority, then we’re just putty in the hands of those in power. But if the citizens are educated and form their own opinions, then those in power work for us. In every country, we should be teaching our children the scientific method and the reasons for a Bill of Rights. With it comes a certain decency, humility and community spirit. In the demon-haunted world that we inhabit by virtue of being human, this may be all that stands between us and the enveloping darkness. (emphasis added)”

The Pfizer vaccine was developed not by Pfizer but by a German company called BioNTech. There is an amazing story behind BioNTech, which was founded by a married couple, both of whom are children of Turkish immigrants to Germany. Thanks to the success of their vaccine, they are now billionaires but they don’t own a car. They are the kind of people that Trump’s strict bans on immigration would keep out of our country. The Washington Post profiled the couple.

BERLIN — At 8 p.m. Sunday ­evening, the phone rang with the call Ugur Sahin, chief executive of the German medical start-up ­BioNTech, had been anxiously awaiting.
“Are you sitting down?” Pfizer chief Albert Bourla asked him.


The news that followed was better than Sahin had hoped: Preliminary analysis from Phase 3 trials of his company’s coronavirus vaccine showed 90 percent protection.


“I was more than excited,” said Sahin, speaking to The Washington Post on a video call from his home in the western German city of Mainz.


The interim results put the 55-year-old and his co-founder wife, Ozlem Tureci, in the front of the pack racing for a safe and effective vaccine. Global markets rallied, and stock soared for ­BioNTech — a small-by-pharma-industry-standards company that has yet to see a vaccine using its technology brought to market. For the corona-weary masses, it was a much-needed glimpse of a potential end in sight...

The husband-and-wife team behind one of the world’s top coronavirus vaccine candidates are the sort of people who don’t own a car and who took the morning off for their wedding day in 2002 before returning to the lab. Half a day was “sufficient,” Tureci explained.

Sahin and Tureci, both children of Turkish immigrants to Germany, met while working on an oncology ward in the southwestern city of Homburg. They found they shared an interest in getting the body’s immune system to fight cancer.
Sahin was born in the Mediterranean city of Iskenderun and moved to Germany when he was 4. His father was a “Gastarbeiter,” or guest worker, at a Ford factory in Cologne.


Tureci’s family moved to Germany from Turkey before she was born, after her father finished medical school. “He schlepped me everywhere when I was young,” she said, “to the hospital and to see patients and such.”
In her studies, Tureci was surprised by the gap between advances in medical technology and what was available to doctors and patients. She and Sahin decided the best way to close that gap was to launch their own company.

Founded in 2008, BioNTech’s work focused primarily on cancer vaccines using what is known as messenger RNA technology. While traditional vaccines require labor-intensive production of ­viral proteins, mRNA vaccines deploy a piece of genetic code that instructs a person’s immune system to produce the proteins itself.



Sahin said he hadn’t closely followed the science of the novel coronavirus spreading in China, but on Jan. 24 he received a scientific paper that rang alarm bells. It described both serious cases and an asymptomatic carrier. He Googled “Wuhan” and saw it was a well-connected megacity with an international airport.


“That’s the full pattern you need for a pandemic virus,” he said.
It took a few days to talk others at the company into putting their resources behind a coronavirus vaccine, he said, as some experts were still dismissing the potential for a pandemic as hype. “In a company, it’s a matter of convincing people that they need to install a lot of energy,” he said. Energy is something Sahin exudes as he talks excitedly about the vaccine’s prospects.


It was a “snowball effect,” Tureci said. “He was very convincing that this kind of pandemic could develop.”


Within four weeks, the first wave of the epidemic in Europe was in full swing, and BioNTech had 20 vaccine candidates as part of what it dubbed project “Lightspeed” (no connection to the U.S. government’s “Operation Warp Speed”). With a team of more than 1,000 people in Mainz working “24-7,” Sahin said, the company narrowed its most promising candidates down to four. But it didn’t have the resources to conduct large-scale clinical trials or the production and distribution that would be necessary.


BioNTech approached Pfizer, with whom they had an existing relationship, working on influenza vaccines.
“The answer came immediately and was a yes,” said Tureci. In April, Pfizer invested an initial $185 million toward the vaccine development and said it would release up to $563 million more based on milestones in the development.
When the interim Phase 3 results came in, Tureci said, they took her by surprise. “As a scientist, I’m very cautious and tend to be a bit pessimistic,” she said.


Sahin said the news was “extremely relieving.”
The United States had already ordered 100 million doses, with an option for 500 million more. The European Union on Wednesday agreed on an order for an initial 200 million.
Amid the whirlwind of publicity, tweets from President Trump have brought some bemusement. “Complete nonsense” is how Sahin describes the accusation that the companies sat on the results until after the election.
And as for Trump’s claims of credit: “I’m not sure where the U.S. government would have had input in this,” Tureci said...

Sahin and Tureci are now a billionaire couple, numbering among the 100 richest Germans, according to the German paper Welt am Sonntag. Sahin said he can’t avoid watching the stock price go up — “but it doesn’t really matter that much.” He’s more concerned about getting his first product to the market.
“I don’t have a car. I’m not going to buy a plane,” said Sahin, who cycles to work every day. “What’s life-changing is to be able to impact something in the medical field.”

The organization Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting writes that the New York Times has become a “cheerleader” for reopening the schools as the COVID surges to new heights.

it is strange indeed because there is evidence to support reopening and equally impressive evidence against reopening schools. Yet the New York Times consistently lands on one side: reopen the schools.

Ari Paul of FAIR writes:

We’re still dealing with a pandemic of biblical proportions, and the scientific community is still conflicted about how schools reopening fits into the crisis. Anthony Fauci, one of the nation’s top infectious disease experts, favors school reopening (Business Insider11/29/20)—as does the American Academy of Pediatrics, though it notes that “the current widespread circulation of the virus will not permit in-person learning to be safely accomplished in many jurisdictions.”

But the idea that children are not vectors, or are merely low-risk vectors, for spread of the coronavirus is in dispute (Healthline9/24/20AP9/22/20). The Journal of the American Medical Association (7/29/20) reported “a temporal association between statewide school closure and lower Covid-19 incidence and mortality,” saying that school closures between March 9 and May 7 were associated with a 62% relative decline in Covid incidence per week and a 58% decline in deaths per week.

Nature (11/16/20) cited JAMA’s finding to bolster its comprehensive statistical review of governmental “non-pharmaceutical interventions” against Covid, which found that school closures were one of “the most effective NPIs” in curbing the spread of the disease. A report in US News and World Report (12/2/20) based on data compiled by the Covid Monitorproject on the coronavirus in K–12 schools  concluded that “the data suggests schools are NOT safe and DO contribute to the spread of the virus—both within schools and within their surrounding communities.”

And that’s partially why parents and teachers are so worried about de Blasio’s plan. Individual schools in the city have to deal with budget shortfallsdeteriorating buildings and lack of supplies in the best of times, and now they suddenly must rapidly and safely implement in-person teaching. And as many New York schools advocates, like one-time gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon, have argued, reopening schools tends to benefit whiter communities, as whiter, more affluent schools tend to have more resources to adapt to the current environment.

Paul identifies Times’ reporter Eliza Shapiro as purveyor of a consistent anti-union, anti-teacher perspective, who consistently supports reopening and ignores the voices of teachers who complain about the lack of funding for protective measures for both students and teachers.

Paul concludes that the New York Times, the newspaper of record, “should be playing a much more balanced and compassionate role.”

Tim Schwab has written several articles about the Gates Foundation and its negative effect on freedom of the press, education, and every other arena where it exercises an outsize influence because of its disproportionate power. When Melinda and Bill Gates make mistakes, they seldom apologize or make amends. They usually blame someone else or simply double down. In education, we have certainly seen this as Gates doubled down on using test scores to judge teacher quality, invested in charter schools, and funded the single biggest effort to standardize education: the Common Core.

In Schwab’s latest report on Gates’ follies, he reports that Gates has distorted knowledge about the pandemic by pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into one data-gathering project.

Schwab begins:

A perennial feature of the Covid-19 pandemic has been the guessing game of whether things are getting better or worse—and how policy approaches (masks, shutdowns) and changes in the weather will affect the coronavirus. Dozens of research institutes have published educated guesses about what’s coming next, but none have had the impact or reach of the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

In the early days of the pandemic, the IHME projected a far less severe outbreak than other models, which drew the attention of Donald Trump, who was eager to downplay the danger. At a March 31 press briefing, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, Debbie Birx, with the president at her side, used IHME charts to show that the pandemic was rapidly winding down.

“Throughout April, millions of Americans were falsely led to believe that the epidemic would be over by June because of IHME’s projections,” the data scientist Youyang Gu noted in his review of the institute’s work. “I think that a lot of states reopened based on their modeling.”

The IHME brushed aside the widespread criticism that emerged—“Many people do not understand how modeling works,” its director, Chris Murray, explained in a Los Angeles Times op-ed—and continued to push headline-grabbing projections that drew alarm from its peers. For example, while many researchers limit their projections to a few weeks into the future, Murray used his regular appearances on CNN to chart the course of the pandemic many months in advance, putting the IHME’s highly contested estimates in a position to guide policy-making ahead of other models.

“It seems to be a version of the playbook Trump follows,” says Sam Clark, a demographer at Ohio State University. “Absolutely nothing negative sticks, and the more exposure you get, the better, no matter what. It’s really stunning, and I don’t know any other scientific personality or organization that is able to pull it off quite like IHME.”

The institute’s uncanny resilience, unconventional methods, and media savvy have long made it controversial in the global health community, where scholars have watched its meteoric rise over the past decade with a mix of awe and concern. Years before Covid, the IHME gained outsize influence by tracking hundreds of diseases across the planet and producing some of the most cited studies in all of science.

But it has also spawned a legion of detractors who call the IHME a monopoly and a juggernaut and charge the group has surrounded itself with a constellation of high-profile allies that have made it too big to peer review, the traditional method of self-regulation in science. Fueled by more than $600 million in funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation—a virtually unheard-of sum for an academic research institute—the IHME has outgrown and overwhelmed its peers, most notably the World Health Organization (WHO), which previously acted as the global authority for health estimates.

With Gates’ funding, IHME has become the go-to source for public health data. Schwab explains the unfortunate consequences of this global hegemony.


The New York Times reports that scientists are converging on a consensus that it is safe for young children to return to school.

After a summer of uncertainty and fear about how schools across the globe would operate in a pandemic, a consensus has emerged in recent months that is becoming policy in more and more districts: In-person teaching with young children is safer than with older ones, and particularly crucial for their development.

On Sunday, New York City, home to the country’s largest school system, became the most high-profile example of that trend, when Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that only elementary schools and some schools for children with complex disabilities would reopen after all city classrooms were briefly shuttered in November. There is no plan yet to bring middle and high school students back into city school buildings.

It was an abrupt about-face for the mayor, who had for months promised to welcome all of the city’s 1.1 million children — from 3-year-olds to high school seniors — back into classrooms this fall.

But the decision put New York in line with other cities around America and across the world, which have reopened classrooms first, and often exclusively, for young children, and in some cases kept them open even as they have confronted second waves of the virus.

In-person learning is particularly crucial for young children, who often need intensive parental supervision to even log on for the day, education experts say. And mounting evidence has shown that elementary school students in particular can be safe as long as districts adopt strict safety measures, though it’s an unsettled question for older students.

“With younger kids, we see this pleasant confluence of two facts: science tells us that younger children are less likely to contract, and seemingly less likely to transmit, the virus,” said Elliot Haspel, the author of Crawling Behind: America’s Child Care Crisis and How to Fix It. “And younger children are the ones that most need in-person schooling, and in-person interactions.”

Districts including Chicago, Washington D.C. and Philadelphia have either begun to bring back only young children or have plans to do so whenever they eventually reopen classrooms.

In Rhode Island, Gov. Gina Raimondo, a strong proponent of keeping schools open, recently asked colleges to shift to all-remote learning after Thanksgiving, and gave districts the option of reducing the number of high school students attending in person. But she asserted that middle and elementary schools were not sources of community spread.

That model of giving priority to younger students has been pioneered in Europe, where many countries have kept primary schools open even as most other parts of public life have shuttered during the continent’s second wave.

Italy has kept its primary schools open but kept teaching remote for middle and high schools. All schools in Germany are open, and discussions about possible closures have focused mainly on high schools.

And in America, more and more districts have begun to prioritize elementary school students for in-person learning.

In urban districts that have been slow to reopen, that has meant making plans to bring back the youngest students. In parts of the Midwest where school districts were more aggressive about reopening, and where there has been a huge rise in cases in recent weeks, public health officials have prioritized keeping elementary schools open even as they have closed high schools and in some cases middle schools.

“The data is becoming more compelling that there is very limited transmission in day care and grade schools,” said Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota and a member of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s coronavirus task force, in a recent interview.

“I keep telling people, ‘Stop talking about kids — talk about those younger than 10,’” he added. “We’re seeing a very different epidemiology in that group than we’re seeing, for example, in high school students.”

As anyone who read my book Left Back (2000) knows, I have long been persuaded of the value of phonetic instruction for early readers. I was a friend of the late Jeanne Chall, who began her career as a kindergarten teacher and eventually became a Harvard professor and the nation’s most eminent reading researcher. Her 1967 book, Learning to Read: The Great Debate, should have ended the reading wars, but they continued for the next half century. She understood that both sides were right, and that teachers should have a tool-kit of strategies, including phonetic instruction, that they could deploy when appropriate.

In recent years, proponents of phonics have termed themselves champions of “the science of reading.” Even though I support phonics instruction, I find it misleading to use this term. Learning to read is one of the most important experiences that children have in their lifetimes. Of course, teachers should know how to teach students how to decode words. Of course, teachers should use reading and writing instruction together. Of course, teachers should introduce children to wonderful literature. Of course, of course, of course.

But teaching reading is not science. Good reading teachers use their knowledge, judgment, skill, and experience. They are not scientists. They are reading teachers.

The “science of reading” sounds to me like “the science of play,” “the science of cooking,” “the science of pedagogy,” “the science of love,” “the science of finding the right mate,” “the science of tennis.” You can take it from there.

Reading is not chemistry, biology, physics, or mathematics. Some children will learn to read before they ever start school, because they sat on the lap of a parent who read the same books over and over, with love, delight, and enthusiasm. Many children do need systematic decoding instruction and phonemic awareness. Reading teachers know which children need which approach.

Just as there is no “science of history,” “science of literature,” or “science of government,” there is no “science of reading.” I would go farther and ay there is no “science of teaching science.” Science is based on hypothesis and evidence, but teachers will find a variety of ways to teach science. Good teachers, whatever their field, rely on the knowledge and judgment gleaned from practice, study, and experience. With time and good teachers, all children will learn to read.