CoronaVirus Testing – The USA is Failing the Greatest Challenge In a Century

covidtestingA new wave and second lockdown would be a bigger hit to wealth than a cautious return to work, but Donald Trump is refusing to listen.

Like an asteroid, coronavirus is the textbook example of an exogenous shock. The threat came from beyond. Yet the pathogen offers a unique stress test of each country’s resilience. Some nation states are holding up well. In spite of its unmatched scientific resources, the US is not. More worrying, it is showing little sign of lifting its performance. Six weeks after its first coronavirus death, America’s learning curve remains flatter than its infection rate. It should be the other way round. 

The biggest worry is that the US still lacks a road map. The federal government has only a weak grasp on how many Americans are infected with Covid-19, a clear measure of the mortality rate, and therefore the extent of immunity in the country. Without more tests, the US is travelling blind. Just 1 per cent of the country, 3.2m people, have been tested so far. In early March, Mike Pence, the vice-president, promised 4m tests within a week. The same day, President Donald Trump said anybody in the US who wanted a test could get one. That remains as untrue today as it was then. 

The stubborn fact is that the US is not churning out enough kits. The average number of daily tests has been stuck at 140,000 for the past two weeks. That is far below the level that scientists say is required to gauge the pandemic’s reach. Some say the US should be testing 10 times that number to understand the spread of the disease. Others want half-a-million a day. Either way, testing has hit a very low plateau, which is a metric of negligence. Without a grasp of the facts, the US will not find its way out. 

The deepest puzzle is the gap between wishes and action. Mr Trump was not alone in waking up very late to the coronavirus threat. Others, including Britain’s Boris Johnson, were equally laggard. Each country now has higher death rates than they would have had they acted sooner. Epidemiologists say that if the US shutdown had taken place two weeks early, 90 per cent of the deaths would have been prevented. Over 30,000 Americans have now died, according to the official tally. Had no social distancing occurred at all, the US would have lost many times that by now. There is no excuse for running the same experiment again. 

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