Testing is everything in responding to the coronavirus pandemic. That’s been the consistent message from national and international leaders alike.
That includes Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the World Health Organization, who in a media briefing on Monday said that “all countries must take a comprehensive approach. But the most effective way to prevent infections and save lives is breaking the chain of transmission. And to do that, you must test and isolate. You cannot fight a fire blindfolded. And we cannot stop this pandemic if we don’t know who is infected.
“We have a simple message for all countries: test, test, test.”
That’s what Minnesota’s leaders would like to do. But they, too, are fighting the fire blindfolded due to the potentially deadly dearth of testing capacity. On Thursday, Kris Ehresmann, the infectious disease director of the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), said that with the six community-transmitted cases of COVID-19 at that point, “we have more COVID-19 circulating in Minnesota than our case numbers would suggest.”
Just how many remains unknown, creating “frustration” for Gov. Tim Walz and other Minnesotans who want to feel hope that the pandemic will be controlled.
The collective emotion should be anger as well. There are many tentacles to the testing backlog, which is but a subset of the broader problems in the federal response. Most notably, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declined to use World Health Organization tests used in countries like South Korea, where testing rates far surpass those in the United States.
Despite President Donald Trump’s March 6 pledge that “anybody who wants a test can get a test,” mass backlogs exist. “I am concerned that national messaging from the White House task force regarding test availability in all states and accessible drive-up testing does not accurately reflect these critical shortages in Minnesota,” Dr. Rahul Koranne, president and CEO of the Minnesota Hospital Association, said in a statement on Tuesday.
Private industry has stepped up as fast as possible. The Mayo Clinic, among others, raced to develop a COVID-19 test. The federal government has sped up, too, but should have been better prepared.
The warnings were there. In fact, a chillingly realistic pandemic simulation run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services last year “drove home just how underfunded, underprepared and uncoordinated the federal government would be for a life-or-death battle with a virus for which no treatment existed,” the New York Times reported Thursday.
The “Crimson Contagion” exercise imagined a respiratory virus beginning in China and being declared a pandemic 47 days later. But a later response in the simulation resulted in these mind-numbing numbers: 110 million Americans infected, 7.7 million hospitalized and 586,000 dead.
Test, test, test, said the World Health Organization’s secretary-general. It’s clear that America is failing in that regard, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease.
Americans have every right to be angry. But they must also focus doing what they can individually to stay healthy and mitigate the need for tests in the first place.