The Atlantic Politics Daily: Congress Isn't Ready for the Coronavirus

Why the U.S. is so behind on COVID-19 testing. Plus: Remote work was thought of being the future for office work. The coronavirus outbreak has hastened that experiment.

It’s Friday, March 13. In today’s newsletter: Why the U.S. is so behind on COVID-19 testing. Plus: The white-collar work-from-home reckoning, hastened by the viral outbreak.



The federal government’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak has been far from textbook.

Just over 14,000 Americans have been tested for COVID-19 as of today, according to a running tally my colleagues are tracking with the help of other data journalists, which is in some cases an order of magnitude behind how other countries, such as South Korea, are testing for the virus. Olga Khazan reports on several key reasons for the U.S.’s delays in such a key aspect of treating, containing, and understanding the disease (bureaucracy is one reason; delays in getting virus samples is another).

And as the markets plummet, Congress is also still mulling over what exactly to do about fears of a deep recession setting in. The congressional scholar Norm Ornstein argues that Congress is woefully underprepared for what could happen next:

There is no plan in place for Congress to hold remote meetings or otherwise conduct its business if it becomes impossible for its members to meet together, face to face in the Capitol or at another site in the District of Columbia. And that needs to change, right now.

Ben Rhodes, a top adviser to Barack Obama who helped guide the then-president through the Ebola outbreak in 2014, argues that Trump set himself up to fail:

By constantly trying to get himself through the news cycle, Trump has done irreparable damage to the long-term objective of ensuring that he’s a credible voice on the COVID-19 crisis. Time and again, he’s minimized the danger while talking up his own response.

With the consequences of the virus growing more grave by the day, what does the coronavirus mean for Trump’s reelection chances? Peter Wehner writes:

The coronavirus is quite likely to be the Trump presidency’s inflection point, when everything changed, when the bluster and ignorance and shallowness of America’s 45th president became undeniable, an empirical reality, as indisputable as the laws of science or a mathematical equation.

Read Peter’s bracing essay here.


We are continuing our coverage of the coronavirus and have made some of our most essential stories free for everyone to read. Let us know if you have specific questions about the virus—or if you have a personal experience you’d like to share with us. You can reply directly to this newsletter, or send a note to our team here.

—Saahil Desai


The Great Coronavirus Work From Home Experiment

As the COVID-19 outbreak pushes more Americans to enact social distancing measures, the average white-collar worker is experiencing an accelerated experiment in remote work.

Even before pandemic struck, America was already in a gradual shift in favor of working from home: The share of the labor force that works remotely tripled in the last 15 years, our staff writer Derek Thompson, who covers economics and politics, reports.

Once upon a time, remote work was thought of being the future for office work. But things don’t look as rosy right now, as a viral outbreak has forced the practice.

Beyond lost creativity and companionship, the gravest threat to many companies from remote work is that it breaks the social bonds that are necessary to productive teamwork. Several years ago, Google conducted a research project on its most productive groups. The company found that the most important quality was “psychological safety”—a confidence that team members wouldn’t embarrass or punish individuals for speaking up.

Read Derek’s full story here.



While President Trump declares a national emergency to free up federal funds in the government’s coronavirus response, you probably have questions about dealing with how the virus changes daily life. The Atlantic has some resources for that:

+ You’re hearing about “social distancing” a lot. Here’s what that looks like for you and your family and friends.

+ People are stocking up hand sanitizer. Here’s what you can do right now to help slow the outbreak.

+ If you start feeling some symptoms but aren’t sure? Here’s how to think through that scenario.

You can find our entire collection of COVID-19 coverage here.


Today’s newsletter was written by Saahil Desai, an editor on the Politics desk, and Christian Paz, a Politics fellow. It was edited by Shan Wang, who oversees newsletters.

You can reply directly to this newsletter with questions or comments, or send a note to

Your support makes our journalism possible. Subscribe here.