America’s covid-19 testing fiasco

Investigative journalists and at least one think tank are putting pressure on the American government to improve our shameful coronavirus testing capability. There is a great article by Brian Resnick and Dylan Scott this morning about it with this new data:

The USA is in trouble because we have a LARGE population and almost no testing compared to the size of our need. Taiwan, by comparison, has done the best job preventing the crisis. They started disease surveillance and testing early, so they haven’t needed to do that much testing because they have very few cases even though Taiwan has the highest risk of exposure given it’s location and economic ties. Taiwan has done the best job of diagnosing infected people and keeping them from infecting others. That should be our model for how to prevent and slow the pandemic.

Brian Resnick and Dylan Scott‘s article also tells stories about Americans who need testing and meet obvious risk criteria but haven’t been able to get it.  Meanwhile, American politicians who had been denying that we have a problem were able to cut in line and get tested even though they obviously don’t meet the CDC’s criteria for testing.  With such limited testing capability, America needs better triage.

The conservative/libertarian think tank the AEI has also prioritized tracking America’s testing problem to help show that it is a problem that needs to be fixed. They are disseminating their findings on twitter and this is the current state of their investigation into the theoretical capability of American labs to conduct testing:

That is the claimed capability of America’s labs to conduct testing. It is pretty pathetic compared with what China and Korea and many other nations have been doing and worse yet, it is only a fiction. It is propaganda that is completely out of touch with reality. In TOTAL, since testing began in America last January, we haven’t even tested half what the AEI claims we are capable of testing daily. I know why politicians like Mike Pence have been putting out ridiculously rosy lies about our testing capabilities, but ‘m not sure why AEI is putting out this sort of propaganda.  It is useful to see how pathetic America’s theoretical testing capability is, but the AEI should emphasize that even our pathetically small wished-for capability is outlandishly inflated compared with our testing reality.

The Atlantic magazine has been tracking the covid-19 testing reality on a daily basis and the reality is that the US had only tested 8,900 people TOTAL as of yesterday.

The CDC shamefully stopped tracking how much testing has been done in America when Pence took over leadership of our pandemic efforts.  After a lot of criticism, they finally resumed reporting test totals yesterday and their current count is 7,288 (the numbers for yesterday).  Regardless of whether The Atlantic’s numbers are right or the CDC’s, either way, our testing shortfall is pathetic and will cause unnecessary suffering and deaths.

America’s testing snafu is why the disease is currently spreading more rapidly in America than in other nations we have data for:

At this rate, the US will be have the second biggest covid-19 infection after China within 10 days of any nation in the world.

Meanwhile, Trump’s big idea does what a successful reality-TV star does best: theater. His biggest announcement in his national address last night was shutting down travel with Europe. If that hinders our testing capacity by reducing international cooperation, it will make things worse.  It already caused the stock market to tank which doesn’t help anything.  It will do nothing the slow the pandemic in the US because our cases are mostly home grown already. He is shutting the doors after the foxes are already in the henhouse. And some hens are still outside too. It is the kind of dramatic, theatrical move that Trump understands better than any other politician, but it is a pathetically weak way of stopping people from bringing the virus. First of all, probably less than a thousandth of one percent of European travelers have the virus, so it is almost like shutting down all travel to prevent a tiny number of terrorists who might try to come to the US. It would make more sense to try to identify and stop the tiny fraction of individuals who might cause a problem than to stop the 99.999% who have legitimate and important reasons to travel.

Plus, anyone in Europe can just spend $30 and fly to Britain or Morocco or any number of other third nations and then get a free pass into the USA from there, so it does nothing to stop virus carriers from coming. It just slows them down by a few hours. Imagine using this policy to stop terrorists. It would have zero effect. It will have almost zero effect on stopping infected people for the same reason. To stop the virus, we need to identify the tiny fraction of the population that has the virus just like the only way to stop terrorists is to identify the tiny fraction of the population that are terrorists.

To stop the virus we need diagnosis and testing. Let’s focus our resources on that, not on the distractions of political theater.

Posted in Health

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