As the coronavirus epidemic worsens, US health experts hope Joe Biden’s administration will put in place something Donald Trump’s has not, even after ten months of the pandemic: a comprehensive national testing strategy.
Such a strategy, they say, could systematically check more people for infections and spot surges before they take off. The health experts say it would be an improvement from the current practice, which has professional athletes and students at elite universities getting routine tests while many other Americans stand in line for hours if they get tested at all.
“We have had no strategy for this virus. Our strategy has been no strategy,” said Dr. Michael Mina, a Harvard University researcher focused on use of testing to track disease.
Mike Stobbe and Matthew Perrone write for the Associated Press that some experts say the lack of such a system is one reason for the current national explosion in cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
“If we’d had a more robust approach and testing was scaled up as one of the tools, I think much of this third surge would have been avoidable,” said Dr. Grant Colfax, director of the San Francisco Department of Public Health.
There are differing opinions on what such a strategy should look like, but many experts say rapid and at-home tests should be used so Americans can check themselves and stay away from others if they test positive.
The president-elect has endorsed that strategy, called for making testing free for all Americans, and said government experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other agencies should be empowered to coordinate the entire effort.
“The reality is we’re not testing enough today,” Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, co-chair of Biden’s coronavirus advisory board, told the AP this week.
Testing was one of the first and most enduring stumbles in the federal government’s response to the coronavirus epidemic that hit the nation early this year.
In February, the CDC distributed test kits to public health laboratories that initially were faulty. US officials worked with companies to expand testing, but shortages of chemicals, materials and protective equipment meant fewer tests were available than what experts said was necessary.
Worse, some experts say, states and cities competed against each other to buy limited testing services and materials, and with little guidance or training on how to best use the tests.
And then the president kept falsely complaining that the only reason the US had a high number of cases was because it was doing a high number of tests.
Dr. Ali Khan, dean of the University of Nebraska College of Public Health says “It shouldn’t be anybody who needs a test can get a test. It should be anybody who has a positive test immediately gets isolated” and the people they were in contact with checked and placed in quarantine.
He was echoed by Nunez-Smith, the Biden coronavirus adviser. “Testing is only useful when we can act on the test,” said Nunez-Smith, a Yale health equity researcher.