Elite versus Non-Elite access to COVID-19 testing

By philg

Email received from the president of Harvard, Larry Bacow, today at 1:15 pm:

Earlier today, Adele and I learned that we tested positive for COVID-19. We started experiencing symptoms on Sunday—first coughs then fevers, chills, and muscle aches—and contacted our doctors on Monday. We were tested yesterday and just received the results a few minutes ago. We wanted to share this news with all of you as soon as possible.

Two days from first symptom to test result.

Text message from an M.I.T. Ph.D. in engineering, today a little earlier:

Yes, a friend of mine in Boston had to wait 6 days to get tested, then another 4 days for the result

Ten days from symptoms to result (positive, unfortunately, and then the rest of the family caught it too, casting doubt on the 10% household transmission stat that has appeared in some articles; everyone is recovering without hospitalization).

Conversation this morning with some Harvard Medical Students:

At Partners [the Harvard-affiliated goliath of Boston-area hospital systems] we can’t order a coronavirus test unless the patient is admitted.

[Separately, the “emergency” is not so urgent as to have ruffled the feathers of the Massachusetts state government’s license raj. One of the Harvard students is 4th year and will soon be eligible for a medical license here in Massachusetts. “I don’t know how I’m going to get licensed,” he said. “There are a ton of forms that I need to give to the state and they all have to be notarized. Where will I find a notary?” I.e., the emergency is not so dire that they’re willing to give a provisional license to anyone whom Harvard Medical School verifies is a recent graduate, then sort out the rest of the paperwork after the plague has abated.]

As of September 2019, President Bacow was a cheerleader for more low-skill immigration to the U.S.. Email to the Harvard community:

Not just as a university president, but as the son of refugees and as a citizen who deeply believes in the American dream, I am disheartened by aspects of the proposed new criteria for people seeking to enter our country. They privilege those who are already educated, who already speak English, and who already have demonstrable skills. They fail to recognize others who yearn for a better future and who are willing to sacrifice and work hard to achieve it. Had these same rules been in place when my parents each immigrated, I doubt they would have been admitted, and I would not be writing this message today.

My parents, like most immigrants, loved this country in part because they had the experience of growing up someplace else. They appreciated its aspirations of freedom and opportunity for all, and never took these ideals for granted. But they were also not uncritical of their new home. They wanted it to be the very best place it could be, a goal to which we all should aspire. Indeed, it is the role of great universities to foster an environment that encourages loving criticism of our country and our world. Through our scholarship and education, through our encouragement of free inquiry and debate, we ask not just why things are as they are, but how they might be better. To be a patriot is also to be a critic and not to accept the status quo as inevitable.

The new academic year is a chance for all of us to commit ourselves to creating a community that welcomes and embraces people from across the nation and around the world, people whose distinctive voices and varied experiences are essential to our common endeavor.

At the time the email was sent, every Harvard building that I needed to access was locked down with 100% ID checks at the door by security guards assisted by RFID readers. None of the new migrants would be welcomed into a Harvard building to use the restroom or eat in the cafeteria. The University provided Bacow with a mansion in one of America’s most desirable neighborhoods; he wouldn’t be competing with the new arrivals for housing. So maybe the U.S. could grow to 400 million and Bacow’s day-to-day quality of life wouldn’t suffer.

But why would President Bacow want to see a vastly -expanded-through-low-skill-immigration United States given that it was already taking 2-4 months in the Boston area to get a non-emergency appointment with a physician, a sign of a health care system that would snap during the next breeze of demand? I guess we now know the answer: he never had to wait.