Friday, April 17, 2020
Test, Test, Test,
David Dayen . the American Prospect
By now you’ve probably heard about the protests in Michigan from MAGA types, congregating while an infectious disease is afoot and demanding that the state reopen. The irony is thick with these ones, and also probably deadly. The truth is that we will likely “re-open” the country prematurely, but “reopen” is a relative term. If nobody actually wants to patronize businesses out of fear of infection, what have you reopened? If a tree falls in the forest, etc.
The only way to actually reopen the country is by instituting a program of mass testing, so you can isolate those with COVID-19. Nobody understands this more than the business community, who pleaded with the president on Wednesday to dramatically increase testing, or nobody will come out of their homes. Experts in the field like Dr. Fauci know this is true as well.
Unfortunately we’re going in the opposite direction. Testing has effectively plateaued for three weeks, and dropped by about 30 percent in the last week. There are shortages of swabs—hey, maybe hollowing out our industrial base was a bad idea—and many commercial labs that process the tests have a backlog. We don’t have the equivalent of an in-home pregnancy test that can rapidly pump out results. There are some claims of “overly restrictive” criteria that is blocking testing, but if you don’t have the equipment who cares what the criteria are?
I’d be happy to clear any bottlenecks, since this is the number one most critical aspect for public health and economic revival. It’s amazing how much it’s been put to the back burner. Senate Democrats just released a $30 billion bill to surge testing but they did it on April 15, months after we knew about the virus and that testing would be the key to beating it.
Some localities are taking matters into their own hands. New York City got a supply of 100,000 tests per week, which isn’t enough but it’s a start. San Francisco is instituting a first-in-the-nation contact tracing program, where people who test positive are asked who they have been in contact with in prior days, and outreach staff follows up with them. Monitoring is done with the help of cell phone apps.
We don’t have a lot of time to figure this out. Testing is the only safety valve from the “your money on your life” choice over how to reopen the country.