The Test Is In The Mail | Crooked Media
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January 10, 2022
What A Day
The Test Is In The Mail

In This Episode

  • President Biden announced last month that his administration purchased 500 million at-home Covid-19 tests that Americans will be able to order for free. That pledge came while the country was dealing with Omicron, which has only continued to fuel an explosive growth in cases.  We answer some of the questions of when and where those tests will become available.
  • The U.S. meets with Russia today in Geneva, with other NATO allies set to join throughout the week. It’s a high-stakes conversation, with the Associated Press stating that these talks could “shape the future of not only the [US-Russia] relationship but the relationship between the U.S. and its NATO allies.”
  • And in headlines: A deadly fire in the Bronx killed at least 19 people, the three white men who killed Ahmaud Arbery were all sentenced to life in prison, and Amy Schneider became the first woman on Jeopardy! to win more than a million dollars in a regular season.


Show Notes:



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Gideon Resnick: It is Monday, January 10th. I’m Gideon Resnick:


Josie Duffy Rice: And I’m Josie Duffy Rice, and this is What A Day where, since it’s not on TV and no one can fact check us, we are now identifying as the winners of a Golden Globe.


Gideon Resnick: Yes. So last night we took home one of those big, shiny balls—or we could have anywhere. You really would have no idea.


Josie Duffy Rice: We love that. We love to win everything.


Gideon Resnick: On today’s show, a deadly fire in the Bronx killed at least 19 people yesterday. Plus, Amy Schneider continues to dominate jeopardy by becoming the first woman to win more than a million dollars in a regular season.


Josie Duffy Rice: But first we talk testing. Yeah.


[clip of President Biden] The federal government will purchase one half billion—that’s not million, billion with a B—additional at home rapid tests, with delivery starting in January.


Josie Duffy Rice: That was President Biden the week of Christmas last year. That pledge came while the country was dealing with Omicron, which has only continued to fuel an explosive growth in cases in the US in the weeks since, straining health care systems, schools, and much, much, much more. So we are now in January. Gideon, where does that testing plan stand? Because we are yet again, as you know all too well, dealing with enormous problems with getting people tested and getting results in a timely manner, etc.


Gideon Resnick: Yes, that is right. That is a significant understatement too. So let’s unpack that by first talking about the 500 million that Biden referenced there. So these are those self-administered at-home rapid tests that you and our audience will likely be familiar with at this point, given how many times we’ve had to, you know, shove things up our nose and swirl them, etc. over the past two years. So the White House is reportedly working out details with the US Postal Service to deliver those kits to homes across the country. And a White House source told CNN that the first contract was recently signed to purchase preexisting tests and to use them for this distribution process. So that is expected to be just the first of many in the coming weeks. So at this moment, I guess this is a better late than never situation from the White House because if you recall in the first iteration of Biden’s plan on testing, at-home tests would just be reimbursed through your health insurance provider. That led to this notorious exchange between reporters and White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki last month:


[clip of Press Sec. Jen Psaki] To push, uh, to ensure insurers are, you’re able to get your, your tests refunded means $150 million Americans will be able to get free tests.


[reporter] That’s kind of complicated though. Why not just make them free and give them out and have them available everywhere?


[Press Sec. Jen Psaki] Should we just send one to every American?


[reporter] Maybe.


[Press Sec. Jen Psaki] Then what, then what happens if you, if every American has one test? How much does that cost and then what happens after that?


[reporter] All I know is that other countries seem to be making them available for, in greater quantities, for less money.


Gideon Resnick: Mm hmm. Mm hmm. So Psaki has since expressed regret for that exchange. But, still.


Josie Duffy Rice: I mean, who can blame her? Usually health insurance companies reimburse you right away, very easily, so is it that much to ask


Gideon Resnick: Very easily.


Josie Duffy Rice: So what more do we know about exactly how this is going to work? Does this mean all of us are going to get a package in the mail? What’s the deal?


Gideon Resnick: My understanding is it’s not automatic like that, but we’re still going to get more details soon. As of last week, the White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients was saying that Americans will start getting their tests quote, “in the coming weeks.” So you in our audience may be asking, where do you get these? Are they just magically showing up Santa Claus-style? The answer appears to be that there will be a government website where people can request them, but that is only going to be online once the first batch of tests are available. There are still some other questions that remain about what kind of home tests people will receive and whether it’s going to be possible to request multiple. Now that other avenue, the even more arduous one, the quote unquote “free” at-home rapid test through private insurance reimbursement as we mentioned before, is still going to be a thing. That will begin this Saturday, and it will require people to seek reimbursement after purchasing at a store. Now, I should say there are other city and state things going on too, in addition to what the federal government is doing here.


Josie Duffy Rice: So this is welcome news for people who have struggled to get tested or find a rapid test in the past several weeks, which is basically everybody. So let’s talk for a second about how these are going to be used practically. So the CDC drew all this flak for shortening the recommended isolation period and not requiring a negative test to get out of isolation. What’s the current thinking from epidemiologists on these rapid tests as they relate to Omicron?


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, it’s a good question. There is some evidence that I’ve seen that the rapid antigen tests are a little less sensitive to Omicron than other variants—particularly, it seems, in the early stages of some infections. But health experts like Dr. Ashish Jha of Brown University have recently said that is not reason enough to exclude them from the process of getting out of quarantine. If anything, the opposite. Here he is on ABC’s This Week yesterday:


[clip of Dr. Ashish Jha] The antigen tests remain a very, very effective tool. The one difference we’ve seen between Omicron and Delta is in that first day of symptoms, it does look like the test is a little less sensitive, but that’s for the first day. Beyond the first day, these antigen tests continue to work really effectively. And so I think they are a bedrock of our long-term strategy for managing this virus.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah. So one other thing I learned from reading a Wall Street Journal article—it’s kind of on this topic that we can link to—it’s not completely settled science at this point when it comes to how good these tests are with Omicron as opposed to other variants, but it is more common, generally speaking, that a rapid could produce a false negative compared to a PCR, the lab-based test because the rapids have a lower sensitivity. And with Omicron, there also appears to be a very short incubation period. That’s the time span between when you get exposed and when you become infectious. So the possibility could exist then that a person would test negative on one and then be infectious mere hours later. That’s according to one of the experts with whom they spoke in this article.


Josie Duffy Rice: Oh boy. It’s interesting to hear the doctor say that, right? Because I feel like we’ve all heard 20 stories about people who tested negative in a rapid test, positive on a PCR. So, as always, it’s hard to know how to sort through all this information. So what then are the best practices for using these tests? How should people go about thinking about them?


Gideon Resnick: Yeah. I mean, one suggestion that was mentioned in that article for rapid tests is to maybe wait a day or two after developing symptoms. And if you do test negative, but you think or you know you were exposed or have symptoms, take another a day or so after or get a PCR. As you alluded to Josie and as I’ve mentioned before on here, I had a negative rapid before getting a positive PCR right after. But again, like that straight-up guidance is, I think, better suited for a perfect world and not the kind of horror show that we’re dealing with. And before any of these rapid tests do arrive in the mail, the testing sites and facilities that we might be accustomed to going to are still very, very swamped. There are reportedly some labs, like one at the University of North Carolina, that are limiting tests just to symptomatic people and others who might need it before surgeries, for example. That is allegedly allowing for faster turnaround times there, but of course also risks missing some virus out there. But on the other hand, you don’t want a situation like what is happening during the surge in places like New York City, for example, where the turnaround times for results could be up to like a week in some cases, because then you could also have people running around it and spreading it unbeknownst to them.


Josie Duffy Rice: Right, right.


Gideon Resnick: What does it really matter to you to find out, Oh, a week ago I had something. You need something that’s more tangible in real time. Now that’s all to say that the more testing, even the modestly less sensitive variety, the better. And people should not have to be scrounging and going through all these difficult methods to get it either. More on the federal testing plan and all of this quite soon, unfortunately.


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah. So a lot of new news and hopefully Omicron starts looking better soon. Let’s hope. All right. So we’re moving to another story. The United States is meeting with Russia today in Geneva, with other NATO allies set to join throughout the week. It’s a very high-stakes conversation, with The Associated Press stating that these talks could quote, “shape the future of not only the US-Russia relationship, but the relationship between the U.S. and its NATO allies.


Gideon Resnick: Whoa.


Josie Duffy Rice: So Gideon, very casual. Just a quick talk, about everything. Ultimately, the Biden administration hopes to lessen tensions between the U.S. and Russia this week. We’ll see if that happens.


Gideon Resnick: That would be good. So what do we know about what they’re actually set to talk about here?


Josie Duffy Rice: At the very top of the list is the ongoing threat to Ukraine that Russia poses. This meeting was quickly arranged in response to Russia sending more than 40,000 troops to the Ukraine border, a number that is only growing. And also growing, is the U.S. concern that Russia is planning to try to increase their control of Ukrainian territory the same way they did back in 2014. President Biden has threatened Russia with severe economic sanctions if Russia does choose to invade Ukraine. Here’s Secretary of State Antony Blinken on ABC’s This Week yesterday:


[clip of Sec. State Antony Blinken] We’ve been working in tremendous collaboration with European partners and allies and beyond to make it very clear that there will be massive consequences for Russia if it renews its aggression.


Josie Duffy Rice: So the Ukraine issue is top of the list, but it’s not the only issue on the table. Less important but sure to be discussed are a whole list of what the AP calls: festering, but largely unrelated disputes—including arms control and cyber crime, among others.


Gideon Resnick: During a pandemic, festering is another one that I’m going to have to part with as a word.


Josie Duffy Rice: Can’t use that trigger words. Please do not.


Gideon Resnick: So this meeting comes after there’s been more unrest in the region, particularly in Kazakhstan, where Russia recently sent in paratroopers. We’ve talked about it a little bit here, but can you update us about where that is at the moment?


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, so over the past week, week and a half, protesters have taken to the streets in Kazakhstan. Though these protests reportedly began over gas prices, the protesters demands are in fact much, much broader than just the price of oil and include immediate release of political prisoners, full resignation of the president and the government, and withdrawal from all alliances with Russia. In response to the civilian protests, Kazakhstan military and law enforcement have reportedly killed 164 anti-government protesters, injured at least hundreds more, and arrested over 4400 people. And I think we can assume that those numbers are the low guess of what’s actually happening in the country. The military and state violence has been expressly encouraged by Kazakhstan President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, who authorized them to quote, “fire without warning.”


Gideon Resnick: Jeez.


Josie Duffy Rice: Always great to hear the president say that. The president was the one who requested that Russia send troops to stop the protests, and Russia did just that. And you know, it’s not surprising that a president who in his three years of office has cracked down on dissent and punished journalists and human rights activists, would ask for Russian troops to quell civilian protests. And it’s also not surprising that this is yet another conflict that complicates the meetings this week, right? So Fiona Hill, the former senior director for Russia in Europe at the US National Security Council, told The Associated Press that the events in Kazakhstan are, quote, “probably going to accelerate Putin’s desire to do something in Ukraine.”


Gideon Resnick: Wow.


Josie Duffy Rice: Which is not what we wanted, the opposite of the goal.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah. On that note, then, are U.S. officials optimistic about the talks this week?


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, they’re feeling great about it, Gideon. No, I’m just kidding. They’re not optimistic. No, absolutely not. The U.S. has actually already said it refuses to discuss certain asks of Russia, including limits on troop deployments in the region’s NATO countries. But they have said they’re open to reducing the scope of U.S. military action in the region as long as Russia does the same. But whether or not that deal can happen is yet to be determined. And in fact, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that he doesn’t expect any major breakthroughs. He said that he expects that, at best, they will be able to de-escalate tensions in the short term. And still, even that seems like a tall order at the moment. Russia has expressed great displeasure with statements made by the Secretary of State about their deployment of troops into Kazakhstan. After Blinken said quote, “one lesson of recent history is that once Russians are in your house, it’s sometimes very difficult to get them to leave.”.


Gideon Resnick: Whoa.


Josie Duffy Rice: The Russia Foreign Ministry replied quote, “If Antony Blinken loves history lessons so much, then he should take the following into account: When Americans are in your house, it can be difficult to stay alive and not be robbed or raped.” Unquote. So, yeah, not like casual diplomatic statements coming in advance of this dinner.


Gideon Resnick: No.


Josie Duffy Rice: What’s more, during a preliminary dinner that was held last night, a Russian official stated that the U.S. had a quote, “lack of understanding” of Russia’s demands, and that was basically an attempt many think to lower expectations of any agreement happening this week, right? So we’ll be following the situation in the days to come. We’ll keep bringing you updates throughout the week. And that’s the latest for now, so we’ll be back after some ads. .


[ad break]


Gideon Resnick: Let’s wrap up with some headlines.


[sung] Headlines.


Gideon Resnick: At least 19 people have died and dozens have been hospitalized after an apartment complex fire in the Bronx yesterday. New York Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said in a press conference that the fire started when a malfunctioning electric space heater caught fire Sunday morning. The flames quickly spread to the rest of the building, filling it with thick smoke. Many residents were trapped in their units with no other option than to break their windows open for air and to wait for help. Two hundred firefighters responded to the alarm and found victims on every floor of the 19-story building, many of whom were in cardiac and respiratory arrest due to severe smoke inhalation. A total of 63 people were injured, and of those who died, nine of them were children 16-years old and younger, making this the deadliest fire in New York City has seen in over 30 years.


Josie Duffy Rice: That’s just unimaginably sad. My god.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah.


Josie Duffy Rice: The three white men who killed Ahmaud Arbery were all sentenced to life in prison by a Georgia court last Friday. In February 2020, Arbery, who was Black, was out for a jog in southern Georgia when father and son Gregory and Travis McMichael, as well as their neighbor William Bryan, followed him with their pickup truck before shooting and killing him. All three were convicted of murder and other counts by the state last November. The McMichaels will serve life without parole, while Bryan would be eligible for parole after serving at least 30 years, at which time he’ll be in his 80s. After Friday’s sentencing, Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, said this in front of the courthouse:


[clip of Wanda Cooper-Jones] Thank you all who supported me, who stood with me through the very, very long, hard fight.


Josie Duffy Rice: The three men were also charged in a federal court for hate crimes and attempted kidnaping, and the jury selection for that is scheduled to begin on February 7th.


Gideon Resnick: Today, we have an entry in the vanishingly rare category called good news about voting rights: so 800,000 noncitizens and Dreamers in New York City are celebrating a new law that took effect yesterday that will allow them to vote in local elections as early as next year. So by 2023, non-citizens who have been lawful, permanent residents of the city for at least one month will be able to vote for the city’s mayor, city council members, borough presidents, comptroller, and public advocate. These non-citizen New Yorkers are still ineligible to vote in state and federal elections, and undocumented residents cannot vote under this new law. Republicans have vowed to challenge the new law, but unless a judge stops its implementation, New York City will become one of the first major cities in the U.S. to grant municipal voting rights to non-citizens. Ydanis Rodriguez, a former city councilmember who led the effort to get the legislation approved, said quote, “We build a stronger democracy when we include the voices of immigrants.”


Josie Duffy Rice: In an age of overstimulation that has left what many of us with rapidly shrinking brains—count me as one of those people—one person has proved that being smart is still possible and that is Amy Schneider, the trivia master who became the first woman and fourth contestant ever to surpass $1 million in regular season winnings on Jeopardy, last Friday. Here’s the question that sealed the deal:


[cli of Ken Jennings] Our last final jeopardy of the week is in the category of 20th century nonfiction. Here’s the clue: Norwegian Independence Day and a vast blue sea are mentioned in chapter one of a 1948 book by this man. We come to Amy Schneider, our champion. Which writer did she think of? “Who is Heyerdahl?” Yes! That’s correct. In 1947, a Norwegian scientist named Thor Heyerdahl took his raft, the Kon-Tiki, across the Pacific just to prove that it could be done.


Josie Duffy Rice: Wow.


Gideon Resnick: Did you know that?


Josie Duffy Rice: I totally knew that Gideon.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, yeah, same. OK, good.


Josie Duffy Rice: And I would have a million dollars. No. I had no idea. I still don’t totally know what we’re even talking about. That question, that was a good one. Schneider crossed the million dollar line during her 20th consecutive game. She’s back on the show tonight and will have to win four more times reach her next milestone, which is the show’s third longest streak. Long winning streaks are becoming more common on Jeopardy, a trend that’s been attributed to the availability of online prep tools and even pandemic-related production delays, which may have given contestants more time to study. Schneider herself was skeptical that cramming for Jeopardy is really possible. She said to hold down a streak quote, “You have to just live a life where you’re learning stuff all the time.” Which I feel like, you know, give us a little bit more hope that we will one day be able to win Jeopardy than that.


Gideon Resnick: I know.


Josie Duffy Rice: But still exciting.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, it is. And she is apparently a big Warriors fan and was at the Warriors game yesterday with the return of Klay Thompson after like two years of not playing. And it’s making my heart feel good and I’m like, Why? Why do I not feel icy coldness to the Chase Center and all of the fans of the Golden State Warriors, who are a known enemy of the best team in the NBA, the Cleveland Cavaliers? But I digress. I love this whole situation and I love Jeopardy and good for her.


Josie Duffy Rice: And you know what? You love the NBA. You might not love the Warriors, but we take what we can get in these trying times.


Gideon Resnick: Exactly. That’s exactly right. That’s our motto. And those are the headlines.


Josie Duffy Rice: One more thing before we go: catch up on the latest episode of Offline with Jon Favreau. This week, Jon talks to Alex Stamos, Facebook’s former Chief Security Officer, about his firsthand look at Facebook’s internal politics, his insight on Russian hackers, and the Haugen papers, and makes the case that it’s time for Mark Zuckerberg to step down. I second that. New episodes of Offline drop every Sunday in the Pod Save America feed. Listen and follow wherever you get your podcasts.


Gideon Resnick: That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, claim to be the winner of a Golden Globe, and tell your friends to listen.


Josie Duffy Rice: And if you are into reading, and not just high dollar numbers next to the name Amy Schneider like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter, so check it out and subscribe at I’m Josie Duffy Rice.


Gideon Resnick: I’m Gideon Resnick.


[together] And you never stop learning stuff.


Josie Duffy Rice: That’s our advice to you. If there’s stuff, you should learn it.


Gideon Resnick: Exactly. This is Reading Rainbow now, basically, that’s sort of the vibe we’re going for.


Josie Duffy Rice: Yes. As people who clearly know a lot, we’re talking about how you should learn stuff. Just stuff.


Josie Duffy Rice: Mm hmm. What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Jazzi Marine and Raven Yamamoto are our associate producers. Our head writer is Jon Millstein, and our executive producers are Leo Duran and me, Gideon Resnick. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.