The COVID test crunch is a bad omen for the return to normalcy

August 10, 2021, 5:58 PM UTC

On Thursday night, I was out among the unvaccinated. I was reporting a story—it’s not out yet—and, I took the precautions of double-masking and staying almost entirely outdoors.

Still, the risks were apparent. For two 10-minute trips, I was crammed into a tight space with a few dozen unmasked people. For hours in between, I interviewed people only as far away as my arm could hold my recorder. With the Delta variant ripping through New York, I knew those 2020-era precautions may not have been enough. 

Call it lack of foresight, but I didn’t anticipate these risks; the potential exposure derailed other plans. The day before my reporting trip, I drove my wife and seven-month old daughter to her family’s home. I intended to join them that Friday. Since my daughter is too young to be vaccinated, and I could have carried the variant, those plans were scuttled.

So on Monday, I sought out rapid tests to get the all-clear. I called the closest pharmacy near me to make sure they were still giving tests. Yes, the pharmacist said, but we’re out of rapid tests. I called another. No rapid tests; try again tomorrow. A third had the tests, but a rapid and more thorough PCR test together cost $100. 

I hopped on a Citibike in search of the closest nasal swab. A third test site a mile away had a sign taped up: Closed for two hours, on a break. Around the corner, in a garage behind a house, was a sign for “Free Covid Tests.” The nurse required $25, cash. There was an ATM at the car wash nearby. I opted against. 

On I went. There was a three-hour wait on a “virtual line” at the CityMD two miles northwest. Two blocks away, however, was the expensive pharmacy. I went in, handed them a credit card, and hoped my insurance would reimburse me for the $65 I was about to spend.

Thirty minutes later, I got a negative result.

This isn’t a story that ends at the conclusion of my odyssey. These bottlenecks are happening all across the country, fueled by the businesses, schools, and governments trying to stay open in the face of this rapid surge.

The Delta variant has delayed return-to-office plans for white collar workers at major tech hubs like Amazon, which plans to go back early next year, and Dell, which has no set date. As Delta rages on, and new variants wait in the wings, it’s all starting to feel like we’re making the same mistakes all over again.

Life without exposure is miserable, as anyone who lived through 2020 can tell you. But any company trying to bring workers back to the watercooler should consider the realities of bottlenecks, quarantines, and unintended exposures. The mRNA vaccines are proof we live in an age of high scientific creativity, but we’ll never be able to engineer our way out of being human.

Kevin T. Dugan


DeFi crime wave: One of the buzziest corners of the cryptocurrency world, decentralized finance, or DeFi, is rife with hacks and thefts, according to a new report by crypto intelligence firm CipherTrace. The segment was the subject of $474 million from January to July, the firm said. Compared with the $681 million in criminal losses for crypto in general, that's catching up fast. 

Soft profits at SoftBank. Masayoshi Son's SoftBank posted the equivalent of $6.9 billion in profit for the quarter ending in June—down 39% from a year ago. The tech investment firm, which is behind the behemoth Vision Funds, raked in lower profits as public tech firms' listings met less enthusiasm, and an overall crackdown on Chinese tech firms by Xi Jinping's government roils the sector. 

Google to restrict ads for kids: The search giant is reining in ad targeting for children under 18, and will allow parents and guardians to remove images of their children from search results, the company announced. Google said it will also stop tracking children's location history. The move comes just days after Apple rolled out its latest child-protection feature, which will automatically scan photos and messages for abusive content.

Robinhood buys proxy voting company. The meme-stock brokerage platform plunked down $140 million on Say Technology in an all-cash deal. Say allows shareholders to ask questions during company calls, and gives executives the ability to pick and choose those questions. This is Robinhood's first deal since going public last month. 

Amazon pays hurt shoppers. Jeff Bezos' retailer will pay customers who have been hurt by other sellers' products as much as $1,000, without accepting liability. The move comes after a California appellate court ruled that Amazon could be liable for some customers injuries, even though it's been able to sidestep most claims. 


Tech recruiters boys' club. Headhunters have weird jobs. They convince employed people to take other jobs, and then they get a cut of the total salary. Of course, it's not as simple as that. In my experience, they are smart, silver-tongued, and very persuasive. They tend to have unrivaled insight into opaque industries, know loads of powerful people, and can often take people who may not be a good fit for one particular company and match them with a place that makes them happy. 

This can all be a recipe for disaster, however, with the wrong person—and that's exactly what's behind the latest allegations against tech headhunting firm Daversa Partners. 

From the article:

Feighan suspected the alleged behavior was abnormal. It might have been his first job out of college, but he felt like the excessive drinking and sexual references had to breach some code of conduct. Still, he felt he had no one to turn to. According to the complaint, Daversa did not have an internal human resources department, despite being a nearly 30-year-old company. (The firm did have an outside consultant whom Feighan was aware of.) He tried to tell the other partners about the late-night texts and phone calls he was receiving, but, according to the lawsuit, the firm did nothing to protect him. (Daversa denies that any of the other partners knew about the allegations of harassment or assault or were ever told about the late-night phone calls.)

Over time, Feighan began to see himself as part of a group of people, many of them women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ community, who’ve been targeted by powerful men in the tech industry while their companies turned a blind eye. “It was so alarming to me that the people I was supposed to turn to through all of this just kept turning their heads, and that’s exactly what Silicon Valley has continued to do,” he says.


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Monster magnet: On Monday, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a bleak report saying, yes, climate change is real, our consumptive habits are fueling it, and even drastic changes are going to take decades before having an effect. At the heart of this is our reliance on fuels like oil and coal, and the structural barriers to adopting clean technologies. 

But a handful of scientists from M.I.T. are getting closer to fusion technology, a form of energy production that is theoretically clean, created by giant magnets, and built upon ideas that go back to 1950s Soviet-era scientists. Still, there's plenty of skepticism, and the technology appears to be way off, despite billions in investments from folks like Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates.

Maybe, in the meantime, we can keep the car parked in the garage. 

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