Michael Milken Is Holding Out For a Coronavirus Testing Kit

Michael Milken, the former junk-bond king and one-time symbol of 1980s Wall Street greed, is less interested in talking about his recent pardon by President Donald Trump than how to rein in coronavirus.

At the Montgomery Summit on Wednesday, the financier and philanthropist said he's considering whether to offer a prize to help accelerate finding a test kit that could seriously slow its spread. He expects a coronavirus testing kit will appear in the next six months.


"Science can accomplish in an hour what might have taken in a year," he said. "We should be much better prepared to deal with this issue, once we get the facts."

Milken said that a prototype could be ready by the time he holds the Milken Institute's annual conference in May and if not, he has slotted a time in July.

The financier, who was convicted of violating securities and tax laws in an insider-trading scheme, emerged from a federal prison decades ago and immersed himself in a bevy of philanthropic pursuits and medical research.

Milken, who founded his eponymous economic institute, compared the fear that's spreading now to what Americans felt when they saw former Los Angeles Lakers star Magic Johnson announce he had HIV and quit the team. At the time, many feared the virus would grow and be spread widely to children. Now, that's rare.

But, he thinks this is a seminal moment where big health companies could come together to mobilize like Ford and other companies did during World War II.

"Let's get them coalesced around and see what they can do, and bring this to an end as soon as possible," he said.

But in the meantime, he said he's worried about the glut of small businesses around the world that could shut down in the wake of a spread.

"For a person that needs your paycheck to pay their rent or to eat, or to pay health care costs...someone's going to need to provide a solution if the employer doesn't keep on," he said.

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It's almost 90 degrees outside in Los Angeles as lines of cars pull up to Dodger Stadium, home to a mass vaccination site that opened Friday.

"Please make sure that they're not under the sun in the cart," Edith Mirzaian is telling a volunteer as she directs the person to put ice packs on coolers that hold up to 20 COVID vaccines. Mirzaian is a USC associate professor of clinical pharmacy and an operational lead at one of California's largest vaccination sites.

Dodger Stadium alone — once the nation's largest COVID-19 testing site — is slated to vaccine up to 12,000 people each day, county and city health officials said this week. Officials plan to finish vaccinating some 500,000 health care and assisted care employees by the end of this month before opening appointments up to people 65 and older.

Mirzaian is desperately trying to make sure that the vaccines don't spoil.

"We have to be the guardians of the vaccine," she said.

Earlier this month, hundreds of vaccinations were lost after a refrigerator went out in Northern California, forcing the hospital to rush to give out hundreds of doses. Mirzaian's task tells a larger story of the difficult and often daunting logistical process required to roll out a vaccine that requires cold temperatures.

"You know they can't be warm so just keep an eye out," she gently reminds the volunteer.

The volunteers and staff from USC, the Los Angeles Fire Department and CORE Response prepared enough doses to vaccinate around 2,000 residents on Friday and they plan to increase capacity each day after.

Local health officials are holding the vaccination syringes in coolers after they leave the air-conditioned trailers. The coolers are then covered in ice packs and wheeled on carts to clinicians administering shots to health care workers and nursing home staff eligible under the state's vaccination plan.

"Vaccines are the surest route to defeating this virus and charting a course to recovery, so the City, County, and our entire team are putting our best resources on the field to get Angelenos vaccinated as quickly, safely, and efficiently as possible," said mayor Eric Garcetti in a statement announcing the plan.

Health officials around the world are racing against time as the virus mutates and poses greater dangers.

"We have a little bit of borrowed time here right now because these variants are not here in great numbers from what we can tell," said Susan Butler-Wu, an associate professor in clinical pathology at USC's Keck School of Medicine of USC.

Curbing the spread of the virus is a vital way to prevent mutant strains from developing, she said.

Mirzaian, who arrived at the site before it opened at 8 a.m., said that there were logistical challenges as volunteers scrambled to assemble what will likely be the hub of the region's vaccination efforts.

"It's challenging to make sure that everyone knows what the process is and what we're doing and what to tell the patients who receive the vaccines."

After a few hours, the procedure moved quicker.

Residents have to show identification and proof of employment before they're taken through a list of pre-screening questions and given the vaccine through their car window. They're required to then wait for 15 minutes while clinicians monitor them for side effects.

Mirzaian said the process took each car about an hour. While eligible residents can walk-in for vaccinations, she recommends they make appointments so that enough doses are made available each day.

"As long as people have their appointments, they will get in," she said. "We are ready. We are like an army ready to give vaccines."

An earlier version of this story misidentified CORE Response.

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