What if the Biden administration took more ambitious efforts to combat the pandemic, like giving all Americans KN95 face masks?Credit…Danielle St. Laurent for The New York Times
The price of stamping out Covid
After President Biden laid out his administration’s new plan yesterday to take on the Omicron variant, DealBook spoke with medical and policy professionals about what he got right — and where he could have gone farther. And then, inspired by a post by Dr. Eric Topol of the Scripps Research Institute and drawing on insights from Dr. Joseph Allen of Harvard and Dr. Ashish Jha of Brown, we calculated the cost of what health experts think might be necessary to help end the pandemic.
Rapid tests. While experts welcomed Biden’s plan to distribute 500 million free tests, many think far more are needed. The cost of producing the tests is less than $1, but scarcity has driven up their retail price. (Biden said he would invoke the Defense Production Act to augment the manufacturing of tests to help address supply issues.)
Let’s assume the White House can meet demand, and that the U.S. can buy the tests at $1 each. Paying for all 330 million Americans to have one rapid test a day for the next six months would cost about $60 billion, though that includes tests for infants and the like who don’t necessarily need them.
Antiviral treatments. The Times’s case tracker estimates that the U.S. is currently averaging about 155,000 cases a day, or roughly a million a week. If that pace stays constant, that would bring the nation to roughly 26 million cases over the next six months.
But with experts warning of a rise in the rate of infection, let’s double that to 50 million cases. Assuming every infected person is given a $530 course of antiviral medicine, the cost of treatment is about $27 billion.
Masks. While Americans have gotten used to wearing cloth or surgical masks, N95 and KN95 ones are more effective at protecting both wearers and those around them.
If the U.S. gave every American two KN95 masks a week over the next six months, and the government can buy them for $1 each, that comes out to $17 billion. (If you assume only 60 percent of Americans need them, by excluding infants and the like, that amounts to $10 billion.)
The total comes to a little over $100 billion. But there are plenty of caveats: This doesn’t include the costs of other measures that Biden has announced, like resources for more vaccination sites, nor does it account for manufacturing mishaps or the reality that some Americans won’t, for whatever reason, follow medical advice.
But the U.S. has already spent trillions on pandemic aid, which may still not be enough. The medical system is strained by the expense of treating the sick: Delta Air Lines has reported that the average cost of hospital treatment for an employee with Covid is $50,000. And then there is the pandemic’s effect on mental health. Even if these measures may not succeed, would failure outweigh the cost of not trying?
More coronavirus news:
More live events are shutting down, including performances of “The Nutcracker.” Museums are starting to limit attendance. Bill Gates is canceling most of his holiday plans. And along those lines, N.H.L. players won’t attend the Winter Olympics in Beijing.
But the N.B.A. and most other sports leagues won’t shut down, and CES, the huge consumer electronics show, is set to proceed in person in Las Vegas next month.
Hospitals are struggling as most current Covid antibody treatments are proving ineffective against Omicron.
HERE’S WHAT’S HAPPENING
Democrats search for a way to pass President Biden’s social spending bill. Senator Joe Manchin, the West Virginia Democrat who opposes the $2.2 trillion legislation in its current form, presented the White House with a new proposal that includes much of what Biden wants, except for a one-year extension of a child tax credit. Senator Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, said the chamber would vote on some version of the bill next year.
Europe unveils new support to Covid-stricken businesses. Britain announced 1 billion pounds ($1.3 billion) in aid for the hospitality industry, with one-time grants of £6,000 and rebates for employees’ sick leave. France offered up to 12 million euros for travel agencies, events, caterers and indoor leisure companies. The governments in Spain and Italy are set to discuss potential aid this week.
A three-month strike at Kellogg is over. About 1,400 workers at four cereal plants who protested their pay, and rejected a previous deal between management and their union, ratified a new contract that will increase their wages by 3 percent. The strike drew the attention of President Biden and other national policymakers.
The C.E.O. of OnlyFans steps down. Tim Stokely, who founded the content platform that has become popular with celebrities and sex workers, will be succeeded by Amrapali Gan, the company’s head of marketing and P.R. The change comes four months after Stokely announced — and then, amid outcry from content creators, quickly reversed — a ban on explicit material on the site.
A longtime lieutenant to Warren Buffett is retiring. Tony Nicely, the longtime leader of Berkshire Hathaway’s Geico division, is stepping down as executive chairman at the end of the year. Buffett has effusively praised him over the years: Nicely “remains an owner’s dream,” the Berkshire chief said in 2011.
Jack Dorsey takes on crypto moguls
Twitter’s cryptocurrency community mostly presents a united front against all challenges. But Jack Dorsey, a founder of Twitter and a Bitcoin evangelist, just exposed a deep internal rift over the direction of crypto and pitted himself against some of the industry’s deepest-pocketed backers.
The fight is over Web3, the industry name for a blockchain-based internet that runs on crypto tokens. Supporters say it will democratize and decentralize commerce, finance, gaming and more. But Dorsey warned that Web3 was really owned by the venture capitalists who are pouring billions into cryptoventures: “It will never escape their incentives,” he tweeted.
Others echo Dorsey’s concerns. Charles Hoskinson, who cofounded the Ethereum platform, told DealBook that heavy venture involvement in an ostensibly decentralized ecosystem is problematic, since they have ways of potentially taking outsized control of projects. Elon Musk cheekily tweeted, “Has anyone seen web3? I can’t find it” — to which Dorsey replied, “It’s somewhere between a and z,” a seeming dig at the venture firm Andreessen Horowitz, widely known in Silicon Valley as A16Z. Andreessen has heavily promoted Web3 in recent months and invested billions in related projects like decentralized autonomous organizations, or DAOs.
Crypto-focused investors pushed back. Balaji Srinivasan, a former A16Z partner, replied to Dorsey that Web3 offered “the possibility, not guarantee, of something better,” while accusing Twitter of abandoning its own high-minded ideals and succumbing to “corporate and political incentives.” (Dorsey rejected that argument, saying Twitter had started as a corporation and acted like one from Day 1.)
At stake is the shape of the future of the crypto economy. This fight is pitting Bitcoin maximalists like Dorsey, who believe the original crypto is the only way forward, against supporters of the Ethereum blockchain network, which runs on the popular Ether token, and ventures based on other tokens. Chris Dixon, an A16Z partner, tweeted that he hoped Dorsey would abandon his hard-line stance: Bitcoin, he wrote, “is great as digital gold but there are other important applications that require other chains.”
“I became a little bit more dismissive of other people’s opinions than I should have been. That was an early sign that it was time.”
— Bob Iger to CNBC, on a contributing factor to his decision to retire as Disney’s executive chairman at year end.
Why your gifts arrived on time
Disruptions in the global supply chain were widely expected to hold up gift deliveries this year. So far, that hasn’t happened: Nearly all packages sent via UPS or the Postal Service from Nov. 14 to Dec. 11 have arrived on time or with minimal delays. The Times’s Niraj Chokshi explains why the great Christmas shipping crunch failed to materialize.
Shopping early and in person. Motivated in part by fears of shortages and shipping delays, Americans accelerated their holiday shopping this year, and bought more in stores than in 2020.
Early action by retailers. Businesses like Amazon and Target began their big sales in October rather than on Black Friday, which encouraged early shopping. They also ordered merchandise ahead of time and diversified their shipping options.
Better planning by delivery companies. Over the course of the pandemic, logistics companies have built up their capacity to keep up with increased online ordering by expanding warehouses, hiring more workers and more. They’ve also gotten smarter about adjusting shipping rates and which packages they accept during busy times.
THE SPEED READ
E.U. regulators cleared Microsoft’s $16 billion deal for the A.I. and speech technology company Nuance. (Reuters)
SoftBank is said to be lining up a $4 billion loan from Apollo Global Management. (WSJ)
The investment firm GSV is reportedly seeking to buy Forbes Media at a $620 million valuation. (Axios)
The number of hedge fund failures fell to 102 in the third quarter, their lowest level in 15 years. (HFR)
AT&T agreed to sell its Xandr digital advertising arm to Microsoft for $1 billion. (Bloomberg)
Amazon is said to be increasingly relying on federal law enforcement to police its platform and its own employees. (Politico)
The British bank NatWest pleaded guilty to accusations of fraudulently manipulating U.S. Treasury markets. (WSJ)
“How the 2020s Economy Could Resemble the 1980s” (NYT Upshot)
Criminals have stolen nearly $100 billion in pandemic aid, according to the U.S. Secret Service. (CNBC)
A jury found Charles Lieber, a top Harvard chemist, guilty of lying to the authorities about his participation in a Chinese talent recruitment program. (NYT)
Best of the rest
Architects at SHoP, a top New York architecture firm, are seeking to unionize. (NYT)
Jeff Green, a billionaire founder of an ad tech company, is publicly quitting the Mormon Church over social issues and its stewardship of a $48 billion investment fund. (NYT)
The N.B.A. star Steph Curry released nearly 3,000 NFTs of a pair of his sneakers for the so-called metaverse for $333 each — and they’ve already sold out. (Bloomberg)
The latest product hit hard by supply-chain shortages: pet food. (WSJ)
The $1 pizza slice is no more. Blame inflation. (NYT)
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