Can your fitness tracker detect COVID?

Candace Valenzuela wins her runoff, and a look at the largest homeless encampment in Minneapolis history

Hi all,

Greetings from > 4 months in lockdown. I’ve been in D.C. for all of it except I just got back from two weeks visiting my family in the Philadelphia suburbs, which was really nice. Here’s a pic I took from that visit of my mom and my grandparents (91 and 92)!

I have a few stories to share today.

Beginning in June, at a park less than a mile from where George Floyd was killed, a homeless encampment formed. Since then it’s grown to be the largest known homeless encampment in city history — with over 550 tents set up. The whole situation is really tense, and the backdrop of protests around racism and the pandemic are definitely shaping the situation. I spoke with government officials, housed residents in the neighborhood, people living in the encampment, and nonprofit workers to write this story about how the crisis came to be.

(^This picture was taken at a protest outside the governor’s mansion on July 4th)

2. Last Friday I reported an update on the Democratic primary in Texas’s 24th District (which = suburbs between Dallas and Fort Worth). The story made the case that Candace Valenzuela, a local school board member who came in 2nd in her 7-way primary in March, was looking well-positioned to win her runoff election. This district has been represented by a Republican for the last 16 years, and political analysts think it’s going to be one of the most competitive races in November, due to changing demographics in the Texas suburbs. While the Republican Rep. Kenny Marchant defeated a Democratic challenger in 2016 handily, he only narrowly beat the same challenger in 2018, and announced in 2019 he wouldn’t be running for re-election.

This past Tuesday, Candace did win her primary runoff, and so will be the nominee to compete in November. She’ll be competing against Beth Van Duyne, a former Republican mayor who has been endorsed by Trump. The DCCC, which is the campaign arm for House Democrats, released a poll after Candace won showing her leading Van Duyne by six points.

Another fun fact: Candace is currently a member of Local Progress — which if you might remember, is the national network of progressive local elected officials I wrote about in January.

As my editor Ryan Grim noted in his newsletter the other night, there are a number of progressive Democrats facing off against Republicans in November, like Valenzuela, Kara Eastman in Nebraska, Mike Siegel in Texas, and Dana Balter in Syracuse, New York. After 2018, a narrative ossified in Washington that House Democrats can’t move too far left, or else it would jeopardize the House majority Democrats won after the midterms, when many moderate Democrats flipped red seats. This theory was always on shaky analytical grounds, but a wave of new progressives flipping red seats in 2020 would put new pressure on that theory. To quote from Ryan:

If Siegel and Valenzuela maintain their leads and win their general elections, it means that a progressive message can not just win a primary in suburban New York or Chicago — as Mondaire Jones and Marie Newman showed, respectively — it can flip a red district, too. That would put pressure from the left on Democratic incumbents in suburban districts, many of whom have not yet established name recognition, and could be vulnerable to challenges. That dynamic could push them leftward in their voting and messaging to fend off a challenge, a shift they’d be more comfortable making if they know it won’t fatally undermine their general election chances. [Katie] Porter, now a high-profile progressive, did not even draw a top-shelf Republican challenger. 

The wins would be well-timed. Simply winning a handful of House races each cycle is nowhere near enough to change the structure of Congress fast enough to stave off cataclysmic climate change tipping points, to rescue the economy from a tailspin, or to address the unfolding health care crisis. But if the window for big legislative maneuvering opens in 2021, and House Democrats feel that their seats are in jeopardy if they don’t go big, the consensus within the party of what the most strategic move is could shift left.

3. The last story to share is a brief one on this question of whether fitness trackers (like FitBit, Apple Watch, WHOOP bands and Oura rings) can be helpful in identifying COVID. I wrote about the major ongoing studies looking at these questions, a professional golfer who only got tested because his fitness tracker told him his breaths per minute while he was sleeping was higher than usual, and also what some of the drawbacks might be to this from a public health perspective. You can read that story here.

Thanks as always for supporting this work, especially during such tough times. If you like this kind of reporting and want to see more of it, please do share this newsletter with a friend and/or consider becoming a paying-subscriber.