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Epstein Bragged About Gift From Woody Allen Before Raping Russian Model, Lawsuit Says

Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast / Photos Getty

A new accuser has filed a class-action lawsuit against Jeffrey Epstein’s estate, claiming the late sex-trafficker raped and assaulted her numerous times from 2017 through 2019—including at his homes in Florida and the U.S. Virgin Islands in the months leading up to his arrest—after interviewing her on Skype and promising to aid her career.

The woman, a Russian national referred to as Jane Doe, also claims Epstein gave her a tour of his Palm Beach mansion and showed off a broken guitar, a gift he claimed was from his longtime friend, the disgraced director Woody Allen.

Doe’s complaint, filed in Manhattan federal court on Thursday, also names Epstein’s veteran executive assistant Lesley Groff as a defendant. Groff helped to facilitate Epstein's sex ring, the suit claims, by “purchasing plane tickets, sending money, making appointments, and sending various communications from New York.”

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He Walked the Line
Johnny Cash in 1994 (Andy Earl / Camera Press / Redux) Johnny Cash, so the standard line goes, was a man of many parts. “There was no one single Cash,” the scholar Leigh H. Edwards has argued. “He was always multiple, changing, inconsistent.” He was both “Saturday night and Sunday morning” is how the rock journalist Anthony DeCurtis put it; he was a “walkin’ contradiction,” Kris Kristofferson, Cash’s sometime collaborator and running buddy, sang in a song.To work my way past the cliché and remember what a high-wire act his once was, I recently rewatched footage of Cash at the Newport Folk Festival. It’s 1964, and he looks almost like Montgomery Clift, a beautiful and half-broken man. He is so lean and angular from abusing amphetamines, he no longer fills out his signature black suit; his eyes are set alarmingly deep. But the unbroken half? It’s downright magnificent, how he chews his gum and carelessly plays his guitar, dead-strumming it like it’s a washboard.He’d been scheduled to appear Friday night with Joan Baez and Phil Ochs, but missed his flight—a bad omen, considering the shape he was in. His film career was a joke, his marriage in shambles. Some nights he’d “drive recklessly for hours,” he later wrote, “until I either wrecked the car or finally stopped from exhaustion.” And drugs were now overruling his mind. He’d started with a few “diet pills” to pep himself up, but they’d turned him on “like electricity flowing into a lightbulb,” Cash admitted. By the early ’60s, he was in such sorry shape that he once mumbled and paced, zombielike, around the executive suites of Columbia Records.The executives had seen enough and threatened to drop him. Worse than the embarrassing behavior—banging on doors in the middle of the night, smashing chandeliers—he was no longer selling. The first of his so-called concept albums hadn’t broken out commercially and had gone all but unnoticed by the music press. And so Cash had come to Newport to win over a new, and potentially lucrative, audience—the kids now flocking to Bob Dylan.The drugs, however, were drying out his vocal cords. Those days, when Johnny Cash opened his mouth to sing, no one was sure what would come out, least of all Johnny Cash. At Carnegie Hall—a previous proving-ground gig—he could only muster a desiccated whisper. When Cash finally appeared, everyone at Newport gathered to see him. Would he lift them up as one? Or would they need to catch him when he collapsed?And then, out came the voice—that voice, the old umami and gravel, with all its fragile grandeur intact. Was he perfect that night? No, but this was Johnny fucking Cash, product of Sun Records, where the perfect was the enemy of the sublime. He played “I Walk the Line” and a cover of Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” and then “The Ballad of Ira Hayes,” from his forthcoming album, Bitter Tears. After the show, he and a giddy Dylan traded songs and a guitar. Everyone—the college kids, The New York Times—agreed: He’d blown them all away.The paradox had lived to see another day.In a sense, the paradox lives to see yet another day in Citizen Cash: The Political Life and Times of Johnny Cash, which sets Cash’s contrariness in a new light. Cash, the cultural historian Michael Stewart Foley argues, was not just a country-music icon, but a rare kind of political figure. He was seldom a partisan in any traditional sense, and unlike Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, he rarely aligned his music with a progressive agenda. Nonetheless, “Cash, without really intending it, fashioned a new model of public citizenship, based on a politics of empathy.”[From the March 2004 issue: Johnny Cash, God’s lonely man]For Foley, Cash’s status as an artist whose music deeply engaged otherwise incompatible audiences gives him a special relevance to us now. He is a radically unsorted man speaking to our radically sorted times. Just as there are two Americas, there are two Johnny Cashes. One is likely better remembered by older fans in red states as the country artist who aligned himself with Richard Nixon and Billy Graham, who sneered at the “hippahs” and wrote the lines “I do like to brag, ’cause I’m mighty proud of that ragged old flag.” The other is the acceptably blue-state Cash, the antiestablishment rebel flipping the bird at a camera in San Quentin; the Cash of Native American rights.Foley’s method is to remind each set of fans of the other Cash, the Cash they’ve conveniently forgotten, and then show how he made up a single human being, one who did his own justice to the complex task of being an American. The argument has a certain wishfulness to it. To begin with, there’s the faith Foley places in “empathy,” or Cash’s tendency to be “guided by his own emotional and visceral responses to the issues.” What thinking person in 2022—amid the outrage and umbrage Olympics that is American life—still wants an emotional response? We prefer, I think, respect, health care, and a living wage. The case made by Cash is less on behalf of “empathy” than of a world in which partisan affiliation isn’t a depressingly strong predictor of—well, everything else, including musical taste. Johnny Cash in 1958 (John R. Hamilton / Trunk Archive) In its selection of guests, Cash’s TV show (on the air from June 1969 through March 1971) willfully mixed Neil Young, still giving off the hippie aroma, with such Grand Ole Opry standbys as Tammy Wynette. But how well does such a delightful miscellany translate into an everyday politics? Foley doesn’t say, though he has a maddening tendency to construe the most modest gesture of allyship as a profile in courage. When Odetta, the folk singer and civil-rights activist, appeared on the show, Cash sang a duet with her. A lovely moment, yes, and not without its significance. Foley’s reading? “By telling the world he had been buying her records for years, he said, in effect, that he had been on the side of Black lives from the start.”Some readers may walk away convinced that Cash was a Whitmanesque giant, containing multitudes. I often found myself wondering if he wasn’t a two-faced equivocator. The book is a welcome corrective to the tendency to treat the man as so internally contrary as to be a complete enigma. But the cost of rescuing Cash from the metaphysical fog has been to turn him into a plaster saint. Neither does justice to the actual extent of his weirdness.Johnny Cash grew up in Dyess, Arkansas, otherwise known as “Colonization Project No. 1,” a New Deal development built virtually overnight in 1934. The Cash house was No. 266, on Road 3—five rooms, no electricity, no running water—and it had been plunked down on bad land, all thicket on the surface, waterlogged muck underneath.Cash lived the Old South archetype of working hard and close to the soil, under conditions of endemic rural poverty, combined with another, quite different archetype of the New Deal as personal savior. The Dyess project had its own full-time home economist to help with canning, sewing, and quilting, as the biographer Robert Hilburn writes in Johnny Cash: The Life ; a farm manager approved the choice of seeds. The radio that first brought Johnny Cash the sounds of country music was purchased with Federal Emergency Relief Administration loan money. Even as the South began urbanizing and suburbanizing, the Cash family remained living anachronisms, smallholders whose pluck went hand in hand with a deep-seated dependence. By the time he graduated high school in 1950, Cash was desperate to leave.His childhood was Little House on the Prairie crossed with Levittown. (There were 500 government-fabricated houses in the Dyess project.) This may help explain a peculiar quality of Cash’s, of being, as Kristofferson put it, “partly truth and partly fiction”; of seeming firmly anchored in himself, and utterly at sea. At a loss for what to do after stints working in a car-parts factory in Pontiac, Michigan, and cleaning vats in an oleomargarine plant close to Dyess, he joined the Air Force. Able to hear subtle differences in sounds, he was trained as a radio intercept operator; and for three years, at least eight hours a day, he sat in a room outside Munich, listening to Soviet transmissions, distinguishing signal from noise.His base was in the same town where Hitler had written Mein Kampf. It lay less than 100 miles from the Russians, who could overrun it at will. Surrounded by rural beauty and a lot of bad juju, Cash took up the guitar, playing with barracks buddies and putting his feelings of exile and confinement into his first attempts at songwriting. He had a quick and stiletto wit, a comprehensive mind. This “was no hillbilly stereotype,” Hilburn quotes a fellow airman saying.And yet. On a couple of occasions, Cash got drunk and harangued a Black man. “Honey,” he wrote to his future wife Vivian, “some N— got smart and I asked him to go outside and he was too yellow.” The letter is sickening, and having read it, some people will understandably never recover a taste for Cash’s music. I did, though, and what follows may help explain why.From the beginning, rock and roll was notable for the sheer variety of talents and types it could encompass. If Elvis Presley was the lovable dodo, Roy Orbison was a nightingale; if Jerry Lee Lewis was the virtuoso magpie, Johnny Cash was—well, a kind of crow, a spectral oddity with dubious pipes.He had the rockabilly look (quiffed-up hair, black duds) and carried himself with some of the insolence and swagger of Elvis while keeping a watchful reserve. After leaving the Air Force, he headed to Memphis, where he hoped to break into radio. But the cosmos had other ideas. The day after he stepped off the plane, in July 1954, Sam Phillips recorded Elvis Presley’s first single, “That’s All Right.” Elvis was one of those astonishing young men who is naked even when he’s clothed. Seeing him perform on the flatbed of a truck—the sexual charisma, the utter lack of guile—persuaded Cash to approach Phillips, the founder of Sun Records, and beg him for an audition.Cash had, at best, rudimentary musical talent, but he had exquisite taste. He gravitated to Memphis’s Beale Street, to a store called the Home of the Blues, where he bought his first record by Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and where he said he discovered the blues and folk recordings made by the folklorist Alan Lomax in the South. Lomax’s astonishing Blues in the Mississippi Night, an album of “Authentic Field Recordings of Negro Folk Music,” became a major influence on Cash’s songwriting. The revelation for Cash, Foley suggests, was how uniquely brutal the experience of Black artists had been, especially those living on prison farms and in levee camps, and also how close it was to that of sharecropping whites. Having worked, hard and by hand, a land they did not own, both shared a keen sense of our country’s ability to break a promise.Cash’s career was a variation on the master rock-and-roll narrative, of white musicians plagiarizing from Black musicians: He envied but, by and large, he did not steal. He wanted to make gospel records, but Phillips said no. He forced Cash to speed up “I Walk the Line” and “Folsom Prison Blues,” turning him into a (sort of) rock and roller; he turned him into a (sort of) teen idol by changing his name from John to Johnny. By the summer of 1958, Cash had sold more than 6 million records. As was true for Elvis, it was inevitable that he’d graduate from the upstart Sun Records to a major label, and for Cash, that meant recentering his career in Nashville.Johnny Cash and booming Nashville were a terrible match, and not only because seasoned engineers and easygoing sidemen began to cut, polish, and brighten what was, in its essence, a rough, dark thing. By the late ’50s, Memphis and Nashville were, as music capitals, antitheses. Memphis was the blues, Sun Records, Elvis; Nashville was country music, steel guitars, choral “ooh”s and “aah”s. You see where this is going. As Memphis took so-called hillbilly and race music, and combined them into rock and roll, country music became more self-consciously white. Sam Phillips said as much; Nashville said as much.Nobody appealing to the rock-and-roll audience was more country than Cash, and nobody making country music was more rock and roll. This made his commercial prospects vast, and his musical identity fragile. Here was a man who’d stayed a homesteader while the nation suburbanized, who could play the blues without thieving style or attitude from Black artists, who always sounded country but never defensively white. In Nashville, the equilibria got lost. The president of Columbia Records thought of Cash as a folk singer and, eyeing the success of Burl Ives and Harry Belafonte, Cash’s manager agreed. Cash embarked on a series of Americana “concept” albums, on which he too often sounded like a museum tour guide. They flatlined commercially. It was in this period that Cash’s drug use amped up.Even a zogged-out Johnny Cash could still generate a single as good as “Ring of Fire.” But the truth is, Cash’s best work—the Sun sides, his turn at Newport—all involved some kind of courtship of the rock audience. And then there is At Folsom Prison, from 1968. Unlike any other, the album brought together the spirit of country music with all the eros and paranoia of the ’60s. Folsom and its equally remarkable sequel, At San Quentin, are of a piece with Hank Williams and Jimmie Rodgers and the Louvin Brothers, but also Beggars Banquet and Haight-Ashbury and My Lai. Song after song, you hear the gyres widening.[Read: Johnny Cash’s biggest hit song was about falling in love with Johnny Cash]A wildness flows from Cash to the inmates and back again, until, on the latter record, the place verges on a riot—one that, the producer Bob Johnston believed, would have left Cash dead. The prisoners didn’t riot and Johnny Cash lived. Folsom was reckoned a masterpiece by everyone from the underground press to Cosmopolitan magazine. The wager made at Newport had paid off handsomely, and Rolling Stone’s co-founder Jann Wenner laid the jackpot on the table: “Cash, more than any other contemporary [country] performer, is meaningful in a rock and roll context.” He declared him the artistic peer of Dylan.Cash and Phillips—piety in their hearts, dollar signs in their eyes—once talked about making music whose appeal was “universal.” Cash had done it: He’d united the rock, pop, folk, and country audiences. In 1969, he outstripped the Beatles, selling 6.5 million records worldwide. But just as he took ownership of the mainstream, the mainstream began falling apart. In 1968, Richard Nixon won the presidency, eking out a plurality in the South, thanks to his careful courtship of white voters resentful of civil rights. And, flattering the white southerner not only as the most reliably conservative voter but as the most “authentic” American, Nixon went on to embrace country music.This was Cash’s core audience, the country audience, made up largely of white southerners. Their devotion to Cash allowed him to hit the country charts, even when he put out his laziest, most mediocre work. But everyone else helped him outsell the Beatles. Here he faced yet another dilemma, as painful as pitting Memphis against Nashville. As one of the biggest country superstars of the Nixon era, he might have addressed the silent majority and said something important, something concrete and true to his own experience as a white southerner. He could have said: “My bootstraps? They were government-issue. And you know what? Yours were too.”I know; easy for me to say. But political courage doesn’t begin with introducing a Tammy Wynette fan to Neil Young’s “The Needle and the Damage Done.” It begins with your own ox getting gored. And as exceptional as it was—drawing a living from the gumbo soil—Cash’s childhood was also typical; along with the Cashes, the postwar South got pulled out of poverty by the federal government. Beginning with the New Dealers, who’d labeled the poorer parts of the region “a belt of sickness, misery, and unnecessary death,” through to Pearl Harbor and the Cold War, the federal government poured money into the South, making benefits available—as with Colonization Project No. 1—almost exclusively to white people.Drawing on his own experience, Cash might have broken up the central falsity of the archipelago of glass and steel known as the New South: its equation of whiteness with self-sufficiency and Blackness with dependency. What did he do instead? He smiled grimly and talked out of both sides of his mouth. When Nixon asked Cash to play the White House, he accepted the invite, but politely refused the White House’s request to cover “Welfare Cadillac,” a racist novelty song.He persisted in trying to be all things to all people, until, a living effigy in black frock coat and jabot, he rivaled Elvis for losing any evidence of his younger self. In 1976, he served as grand marshal of the bicentennial parade in the nation’s capital, the perfect representative for a country nearing the absolute nadir of its self-respect.“The people are his audience,” a Billboard editor wrote. But “the people” were at one another’s throats. During a live show in 1990, looking strangely like Nixon—jowly, surreptitious, fundamentally unhappy—he introduced his song “Ragged Old Flag.” “I thank God for all the freedoms we’ve got in this country,” he said, as the arena went quiet. “Even the rights to burn the flag.” Instantly, the crowd turned on him, booing loudly. He silenced them with a single “Shhh,” adding: “We’ve also got a right to bear arms, and if you burn my flag, I’ll shoot you.” And the crowd let out a bloodlust roar.When Rick Rubin, the hip-hop and metal impresario, began reviving Cash’s career in 1993, the country legend was languishing on the scrap heap of showbiz. His upcoming gig was a residency at the Wayne Newton Theater (capacity 3,000) in Branson, Missouri. He couldn’t even fill that. Here was a man whose own legend was waiting for him to die. But Rubin understood two things: that Johnny Cash was a living encyclopedia of American song, not a museum piece; and that his voice deserved to be presented unadorned.Their resulting album, American Recordings, features Cash alone, accompanied by just his acoustic guitar. The simplicity worked—artistically, but also in rinsing Cash clean of Nashville, Nixon, and Billy Graham. Rubin had taken him away from the NASCAR dads and handed him over to fans of MTV Unplugged. He re-sorted him.[Read: Country music’s adventurous streak]Thanks in no small part to Rubin, Cash has been a blue-state hero ever since. Citizen Cash pulls, in a salutary way, a reverse Rubin and reminds us that the hipster-acceptable Cash, who hung with Bono and premiered his American Recordings songs at the Viper Room on the Sunset Strip, represents less than half the man. But Foley amasses exactly the right facts, only to draw exactly the wrong conclusion.Cash wasn’t any kind of a politician. He was an American artist of the very first magnitude. Listening to him, unrelentingly, for months now, I think he did have something to tell us. It may be idiosyncratic, but here is what I heard: Ironically, for a country built on the promise of owning your own land, among the truest Americans are those who worked the earth without owning a single crumb of it. Dispossessed, they were forced to take possession of themselves another way: They sang. Denied, substantively, the right to happiness, they declared instead an absolute right to personality. This was most true of Black people, but it could also be true of poor white people. However you apportion credit, together they created a common inheritance we all live off to this day. Upon that commonality, Cash seemed to believe, we might form a less grossly imperfect union. The hope is very beautiful, and I think, in its way, true. But it is not enough.This article appears in the January/February 2022 print edition with the headline “He Walked the Line.”
One Good Thing: The Mole is a relic of early reality TV that still holds up
Young Anderson Cooper hosts The Mole, with a moody wardrobe to match the show’s impeccable vibes. | ABC/Eagle Rock Entertainment Now streaming on Netflix, the spy-themed competition show lets viewers play along with the contestants. The Mole is a gem of reality TV past, with an essence that other series have never quite been able to recapture. Airing for four consecutive seasons on ABC from 2001 to 2004 (with a fifth and final season in 2008), the mystery competition show worked to create a spirit of spy-like thrill and adventure. Even better, it’s one of the few reality shows that let the viewer feel like they’re playing along with it. It’s now streaming on Netflix, ready for an entirely new audience to discover it. Each episode begins with an explanation of the game’s rules. As host, a young Anderson Cooper (decked out in moody, all-black “espionage” attire) explains that players will compete in a series of challenges to add money to a growing pot of up to $1 million. But, he notes, there’s a traitor among them who must be found out: One of the players has been selected as the titular “Mole” and must work as “a double agent,” deceiving the other players, disrupting their efforts, and moving in secret. Thus, every contestant is a suspect, and each week the contestants must take a quiz with questions about the identity of the Mole. The player who performs worst on the quiz is eliminated. At the game’s end, one player will be named the show’s winner — and one will be revealed as the Mole. It’s very dramatic and a bit complex, but it’s precisely this committed mood and spirit that makes the show fun to watch. Adapted from the still-running Belgian series De Mol, each season of The Mole sends American contestants globe-trotting as they compete. In its first season, 10 contestants travel through France, Monaco, and Spain. (Future seasons go on to Italy and Switzerland, Hawaii, the Yucatan peninsula, and Chile and Argentina.) Each episode features daily challenges in a formula that would become familiar on other shows such as The Amazing Race or Survivor. Each of The Mole’s “tests’’ varies in scale, whether it’s going skydiving, figuring out how to reach a new destination, or doing their teammates’ laundry in a town where they don’t know the language. Often, there are variations on familiar games and activities like laser tag, brain teasers, and capture the flag, where opportunities for teamwork and betrayal abound. Watching now, there’s a peculiarity to the challenges — which are pre-smartphone, pre-fancy GPS, and often lo-fi and low-tech — but it makes the moments when they still manage to be thrilling all the more exciting. (A standout ambitious challenge in a late episode of season 1 might have invented escape rooms?!) Each episode’s final test is its most important. The quiz’s 20-plus multiple-choice questions range from“Is the Mole male or female?”to“What did the Mole have for breakfast?” Players answer these questions on a timed computer quiz, based off their own weekly suspicions. The players’ actual quiz scores are never revealed to them, making it near impossible to know how on or off track they might be. Because a player’s fate is based on how well they do on the quiz in relation to others, it’s in their better interest that another contestant performs worse. This leads to players trying to confuse their teammates, sometimes even drawing attention to themselves or implicating someone else. As Cooper narrates, “How do you work together when you can’t trust anyone?” It’s all very intense framing for what is truly a fun mystery game. But The Mole commits to the vibe on all fronts, from the soundtrack to the players’ buy-in to its language: Each episode culminates in what the show calls an “execution,” which is just a classic competition-show elimination ceremony. This suspenseful event sees Cooper type in the names of the remaining players into a computer, one by one. If they’ve performed well enough to be spared, the screen turns a bright green. If they did the worst on the quiz (and are thus the least knowledgeable about the Mole’s identity) they’re “executed”: The screen turns a vivid red, the music plunges, and they’re sent packing. The Mole arrived at an interesting time in reality TV history: at the onset of American reality staples that still run today. Its first season aired only about five months after Survivor’s first season ended, and it predated The Amazing Race by eight months. There’s an apparent normalness to its cast and contestants that feels almost strange by today’s standards. There are no indications of desired social media fame (a la Bachelor in Paradise), and it feels less about having a big personality and more about the actual game. Jim, the light-grunge, out-as-gay “helicopter pilot” is a standout of the first season, often showcasing admiration for the game in all its fun and difficulty. (In what seems ahead of its time, The Mole’s first season featured not one but two openly gay contestants.) And the final three have a dynamic chemistry that feels singular and too good to spoil. It all makes for a stakes-filled final stretch that’s one of the most satisfying viewing experiences I’ve ever had. If there is any flaw to the series, it’s in what we don’t see. To maintain the suspense of the Mole’s identity, the viewer can’t be privy to all contestant strategizing and theorizing. We learn some of these details by a season’s end and in each finale, but you get the feeling there’s so much we’re not shown due to time and editorial constraints. There’s a rumored potential new iteration in the works under a different title, though it’s difficult to imagine a reboot could maintain the same magic as the original in a new technological and social media age. What remains the smartest part of the show’s mechanics is how the identity of the Mole is withheld from viewers, too. It allows the audience to play along and guess who the Mole might be from episode to episode. In middle school, my friends and I would share weekly theories of the Mole’s identity, writing the names of suspects on the chalkboard between classes, or even playing our own versions in backyards before the sun went down — a friend’s older brother played host, we neighborhood kids using pencil and paper to take the quizzes. The Mole often felt like a secret relic only my friends and I knew. I’ve remembered it fondly over the years but haven’t found many others who watched it. Now that it’s streaming, a wider audience can escape into its thrilling adventure at any time. When it dropped on Netflix, I sat down to rewatch its second season for the first time since it aired. I swore I remembered who the Mole was and felt upset by how obvious it seemed now. I worried: Had the show lost its luster in retrospect? But when the Mole was revealed in the season two finale, I was shocked to find out that I’d misremembered. My suspicions and mountains of evidence against this player were misplaced. I had been duped once more. It made me feel like a kid again, completely full of wonder and awe. The first two seasons of The Mole are streaming on Netflix. Seasons one and three are available on DVD. For more recommendations from the world of culture, check out the One Good Thing archives.
Creative holiday wreaths and other ideas for a festive front door
Consider painting your door, using natural elements or going bold to make your home’s exterior extra welcoming.
Meet the reporter who always seems to get a copy of the hottest tell-all Trump book first.
Martin Pengelly has consistently scooped the juiciest details from works by Mark Meadows, James Comey, Mary Trump and others — before they publish.
Our COVID Isolation Policies Are Stuck in the Past
For most fully vaccinated people, a breakthrough coronavirus infection will not ruin their health. It will, however, assuming that they follow all the relevant guidelines, ruin at least a week of their life.That very frustrating week began for Joe Russell on November 11, the day he found out he’d tested positive for the virus, just one month after getting a Pfizer booster, and about five or six days after he’d first felt an annoying tickle in his throat. Russell, a 35-year-old hospital-supply technician in Minnesota, dutifully cloistered himself in his basement, far from his fully vaccinated wife and his fully unvaccinated 2-year-old son, and phoned in sick to work. He stayed there through the 15th—the requisite 10 days past his symptoms’ start. Then, fearful of passing the pathogen to his family, he tacked on one more day, before venturing upstairs on the 17th, still in a mask.Now back to business as usual (at least, by pandemic standards), Russell wonders if he—a young, healthy, boosted individual—could have ended his saga sooner. His post-vaccination infection, like so many others, wasn’t medically dangerous, and may not have even posed a transmission threat. By the time his isolation started, he was feeling totally fine. He took three more tests during his stint in solitude; all were negative, another hint that his immune system had purged the threat. And yet, even his employers, who don’t offer paid sick leave, insisted that he stay home for several extra days past the end of isolation. The experience was frustrating, lonely, and confusing. More than anything, he told me, “I just wish I was there to help my wife out and, obviously, see my son.”Russell’s breakthrough was treated as any other SARS-CoV-2 infection would be. But maybe that shouldn’t have been the case. For at least those who have gotten all their necessary shots, we have the data and tools to slash the recommended length of isolation—and the attendant burden—by a lot, possibly even by half. Two years into the pandemic, we’re long overdue for a rethink on how vaccines affect our approach to outbreak control.One idea involves letting some immunized people test out of confinement, a protocol that universities such as Cornell are already tentatively putting in place. The coronavirus transmission window is thought to be rather brief for most people, peaking around the time symptoms start (if they do at all) and slamming shut in the few days after; vaccines appear to trim that period further down. “It’s clear that vaccination will reduce infectiousness,” Ajay Sethi, an epidemiologist at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, told me. And fully vaccinated folks who repeatedly test negative “are probably not a risk to anybody anymore,” Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at the University of Saskatchewan, told me.The idea of a truncated isolation might sound dicey, especially as cases once again rise worldwide, and a new variant of concern blazes across the globe. But SARS-CoV-2 isn’t going anywhere; our strongest next moves will involve sustainable policies that help us both combat the pathogen and coexist with it. If we must deal with breakthroughs, the least we can do is make them more bearable.The goal of a cautious isolation is, of course, to keep sick people from spreading the virus; getting the timing wrong can be disastrous. But we’ve known for many months that the COVID-19 vaccines train immune cells to more swiftly sweep the virus out. Even the CDC acknowledges in its guidance on isolation that “fully vaccinated people are likely infectious for less time than unvaccinated people.”In the unvaccinated, “it’s clear that the majority of transmission happens early on,” says Müge Çevik, a medical virologist at the University of St. Andrews, in the United Kingdom. The contagious period seems even more limited in the immunized. Scientists scouring airways for scraps of virus genetic material have found that vaccinated individuals seem to evict SARS-CoV-2 far faster than those who haven’t gotten their shots; the immunized may carry a lot of virus initially, but it disappears quickly. That’s true even for Delta and other hyper-transmissible variants, which can rapidly xerox themselves into armies, and may linger for longer than other versions of SARS-CoV-2. Most post-vaccination infections are also asymptomatic or rather mild—cases that, generally speaking, appear to be less contagious.A subset of vaccinated people willstill push pathogenic particles out into the world; the chances of spread are lower, not zero. But “pound for pound, you expect some of that virus to be less potent,” Alex Greninger, a virologist at the University of Washington, told me. Viruses that have been stewing in immunized airways can end up swathed in antibodies that render them less dangerous to others.[Read: How easily can vaccinated people spread COVID?]A lot of this is common knowledge by now among the experts who design our policies. And yet, American guidelines have not substantially shifted since two summers ago—when, in July of 2020, the CDC said most people should no longer be using tests to determine when to leave isolation. Instead, they could exit 10 days after the start of symptoms or the first positive test result, provided that they no longer felt sick. (People who are seriously ill or immunocompromised might shed the virus for much longer, though, and could require isolation of 20 days or more.) That change happened 17 months ago, at a time when vaccines weren’t authorized, tests were absurdly scarce or slow, and the best option was to estimate how long folks might shed, and tell them to hide away for about that length of time.Things are very different now. Three super-effective vaccines have been greenlit for use in the United States, and hundreds of millions of Americans are doubly or triply dosed. Tests are faster and more available. And we know a lot more about how and when the virus spreads. The CDC has even been emboldened to modify its rules on quarantining after an exposure to a COVID case. The policy used to be 14 days of solitude for everyone. Now vaccinated people don’t have to quarantine at all. Even the unvaccinated can peace out at 10 days, or even seven, if they produce a negative test—a change that went into effect in December 2020.I asked the CDC if it would consider amending its isolation policies for the fully vaccinated. Jasmine Reed, an agency spokesperson, said only that “any changes to shortening isolation or quarantine guidance will be made based on science and research.” But nothing in the current recommendations on ending isolation yet reflects how vaccination has changed the game.Rasmussen wishes the rules for isolating immunized people were different as well. Because she’s thrice vaccinated, awaiting coronavirus test results now makes her nervous not because she’s worried about getting super sick or dying, she told me, but because a positive would be “a huge pain.” Çevik agrees. Confronted with the prospect of a 10-day isolation, some people will “hesitate to take the test to start with,” she said. For the vaccinated, “probably five to seven days [of isolation] would be enough,” and compliance would go up. Perhaps a few contagious cases might be missed. But a seven-day isolation would still be far better than none at all.In the absence of federal guidance, some institutions are taking matters into their own hands. Cornell, in partnership with the health department in Tompkins County, New York, is piloting a protocol that lets vaccinated-then-infected students exit isolation as early as five days in, after producing two negative PCR tests. “We think their viral loads drop very quickly,” Frank Kruppa, the public-health director of Tompkins County, told me. “If they don’t have the virus in their body anymore, there is no need to remain in isolation.”Right now, only asymptomatic cases qualify, and students can’t take their first in-isolation test until day three. If that’s negative, they test again on day five. (If that third-day test is positive, but the fifth-day test is negative, they get another chance to test on day seven.) In this way, there’s a built-in insurance policy: A pair of negatives, separated by two days, helps confirm that a low-level infection isn’t being missed.The program doesn’t yet have results to share: In the couple of months since Cornell began the pilot, fewer than 25 students have enrolled, according to Gary Koretzky, Vice Provost for Academic Integration at Cornell University. (Media representatives at Duke, another university that’s tinkering with mini-isolations, declined to comment on their own program.) But if experiments like these pan out, they could pave the path to much more palatable public-health policies on a larger scale. Kruppa hopes to eventually expand the program to all of Tompkins County, where about 75 percent of residents are fully vaccinated. At some point, symptomatic breakthroughs could be eligible as well; officials might also try different testing timelines, or rapid tests. But that all hinges on how the Cornell pilot goes. “It will be stepwise,” Kruppa told me.There are still kinks to work out too. Vaccines don’t take quite as well in individuals who are older or immunocompromised, and the sicker people are with COVID-19, the longer they seem to maintain the virus in their airway, and probably shed it. (There are exceptions to this, including people with long COVID, who may have symptoms for months after they stop being infectious.) Shots can’t guarantee that all breakthrough transmission periods will be brief. And our knowledge of post-vaccination transmission periods might change over time: Antibody levels decline in the months after vaccination, which means the shots’ protection against transmission also likely ebbs. (Boosters, for what it’s worth, seem to rocket antibody numbers way back up, though how long those effects last is unclear.) New variants, too, could muddle the math. And although new antivirals, administered early, might curb contagiousness, researchers are still figuring out how to best deploy them.Testing also comes with caveats. PCR tests are so sensitive that experts can almost always trust their negatives to mean the virus isn’t there. But these tests can’t distinguish between an intact, infectious pathogen, and debris left behind by a successful immunological attack. Some people who are no longer contagious may still test positive by PCR for weeks. (The CDC actually recommends against retesting people by PCR for 90 days after they receive a positive result.) Although rapid antigen tests, which pick up on infections only with moderate to high levels of virus, could offer an alternative, Koretzky worries that they’d overlook contagion and undermine the program. “The false negatives were unacceptable in our mind,” he told me. “We wanted to err on the side of being conservative.” There’s also no telling how Cornell’s pilot will translate to a nonuniversity setting. More than 97 percent of people on campus are vaccinated—far above the national average.[Read: COVID tests weren’t designed for this]Sorting through these questions, though, means moving on from policies designed for a pre-inoculation world. “Are we isolating people because they represent a risk?” Koretzky said. “Or because it’s protocol?” The point, after all, is flexibility. As experts finagle the details, Saskia Popescu, an infection-prevention expert at George Mason University, recommends a compromise: “No symptoms? No shedding? Take them out of isolation, but also, wear a mask.”Tackling the isolation issue could be a bellwether for more change. Post-vaccination infections will keep happening. “That’s inevitable,” Sethi, of the University of Wisconsin, told me. And every case still poses a potential threat to the person who’s caught the virus, and the people around them. The world will need to find the right policies around masking, vaccination, testing, and support for those in isolation to keep cases in check in a sustainable way.We haven’t yet found a middle ground between catastrophizing post-vaccination infections and trivializing them. “We have to make it clear to people that getting COVID unvaccinated is really bad,” Ashish Jha, the dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health, told me. “But in a vaccinated population? We can think about it very, very differently.” Perhaps acknowledging how vaccines transform our experience of COVID, and using that info to guide decision making, is a first step toward carving out that in-between space.
In the novel ‘A Thousand Acres,’ I killed Lear’s wife. A new book has other plans for her.
“Learwife,” by J.R. Thorp offers insight into one of the more mysterious aspects of Shakespeare’s play.
Ranking every college football bowl game, from Orange to Frisco
A rundown of all 42 bowl games with the players and teams to watch.