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Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The coronavirus crisis has moved so fast, in so many different directions, that everybody who's intellectually honest has had to recalibrate their beliefs multiple times to take account of new information.

Why it matters: Known unknowns are almost inconceivably enormous. How many people will die of COVID-19 in the U.S., for instance? The answer could be tens of thousands, roughly where it is now — or it could be millions, if no vaccine is found and the virus ends up infecting most of the population.

The big picture: Extreme actions — whether they come in the form of U.S. monetary policy or strict New Zealand-style lockdowns — are often taken not because of what we know but more because of what we don't know.

  • As we reopen the economy, we will be relying on extremely fuzzy data.
  • Even if we get widespread testing both for the disease and for the antibody, those tests have false negative rates as high as 30%. If you have all the symptoms of COVID-19, for instance, but your test comes back negative, what is the probability that you have it? No one really knows the answer.

Between the lines: During a public health crisis, it's vital that the population as a whole trusts and believes in what the government is saying. But in this crisis, leaders cannot know the truth with any accuracy. No one does.

  • New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo went from begging for ventilators in March to giving them away in April. That's not because he was wrong; it's because the epidemiological models in March had very large error bars. As a leader, Cuomo erred on the side of caution.

The bottom line: We need to trust the individuals in authority, or else their actions will never have any real effect. If they say one day that you must wear masks — even if that contradicts what they said the previous day — it just means that they're responsibly changing their message in the light of new information.

Go deeper

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse under scrutiny for elite club affiliations

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse during a Senate hearing on Capitol Hill in February. Photo: Susan Walsh-Pool/Getty Image

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said in a statement Wednesday that he is a member of an exclusive Rhode Island sailing club that lacks diversity.

Why it matters: Whitehouse has repeatedly spoken out against systemic racism and come under scrutiny this week for his family's affiliation with elite clubs. This is the second such club accused of lacking diversity that the senator has been linked to in recent days

3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Border Democrats want migrants vaccinated

Rep. Filemon Vela (D-Tex.) Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Some Democrats representing border districts want President Biden to vaccinate migrants crossing into the U.S. — especially if he lifts public health restrictions that have prevented them from claiming asylum on American soil.

Why it matters: Inoculating migrants treads a fine line of protecting the U.S. population while possibly incentivizing more migration with the offer of free COVID-19 vaccines. Republicans are likely to pounce on that.

3 hours ago - World

State Dept. fears Chinese threats to labor auditors

A space for media is designated by Chinese authorities near a mosque in the Xinjiang region of China. Photo: Greg Baker/AFP via Getty Images

The State Department is concerned organizations performing supply-chain audits in China are coming under pressure from Chinese authorities.

Why it matters: U.S. law prohibits importing products made through forced labor, but it's becoming increasingly difficult to verify whether products from China are tainted.

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