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The Atlantic: the US is once again outstripping its testing supplies, and the federal government is not helping.


(image courtesy of and Gerd Altmann)

The Atlantic magazine published an article about the supply of COVID-19 tests in the US with reports from the major suppliers, including Quest Diagnostics, BioReference Laboratories, and LabCorp, with a comment from the American Clinical Laboratory Association.  Currently, about 550,000 tests are being performed daily in the US.  Supplies of the swabs used to obtain samples, the reagents used to preserve material on the swabs, and testing machines are all running short.  As a result, the one-to-two day turnaround time that are optimal for reporting results are falling back to four to five days.  Tests from hospitals and for health care providers are being prioritized, and samples from outpatient sites for the general public are being forced to wait.

The Harvard Global Health Institute was quoted as saying that at least 1.2 million tests per day are needed presently to keep up with demand and to allow for immediate quarantining of positive patients.  To eliminate the outbreak, at least 4.3 million tests per day are needed.

The federal government has never taken charge of the testing effort nor taken steps to reduce the shortage of testing supplies and equipment.  Duke University and the American Enterprise Institute (a conservative think tank) called for the government to take over the testing effort and establish a task force to streamline the process.  This never happened.  Admiral Brett Giroir, who was in charge of the testing effort, has returned to his old job at the Department of Health and Human Services.  The president publicly stated that he had told “my people” to slow down the testing.  While key people on the task force denied that they were told to slow down, other important government staff have not weighed in on whether they were told to slow down.

At first, the president’s spokespeople said that he was “joking”, but he responded, “I never kid” and only later claimed that he was being sarcastic.  Whether he in fact did specifically call for testing to be impaired, his lack of leadership on the issue has been obvious.  He has not invoked the Defense Procurement Act to obtain anything other than test swabs, only one of many components that have been in shortage.  There has not been any overall protocol for testing, nor for any aspect of the country’s response to the virus.

As the number of positive COVID-19 tests has exploded in the last two weeks, demand for tests has skyrocketed.  In some places, people have been waiting in line for many hours to obtain tests.  Sites have been closing early because they have run out of testing supplies for the day.  Without enough tests to satisfy consumer demand, much less to get a clear idea of how many symptomatic infections are occurring each day, the situation will become more dire with each passing day.

No test-trace-isolate protocol can be done without enough tests.  Without tracing and isolating, infections will spread throughout the country unchecked.  The only thing that will prevent massive increases in death rates is hospital treatments.  While new treatment protocols that lower the death rate from severe infection have been developed, they are dependent on the hospital system not being overwhelmed with new patients.  The federal government has failed to help our country to deal with this pandemic.


3 Comments leave one →
  1. 2020-07-01 8:18 PM

    I guess the gov’t thinks it’s okay now. Here in my city, only 1 out of maybe 20 wears a mask. At the grocery, it’s worse. It freaks me out.


    • 2020-07-02 11:12 AM

      What bothers me almost as much is people walking around with their noses sticking out of the mask. Is this a statement or just ignorance?


      • 2020-07-03 6:58 PM

        I’d like to believe the mask just slides down. It happens to me all the time. The mask is not in my size I guess. ~.~


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