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Testing for the Coronavirus (COVID-19) has been in the news for several months now. The first reports of cases of what would become COVID-19 came on December 31, 2019. There are now over 15 million diagnosed cases worldwide, and the number of confirmed cases in the United States has surpassed 4 million. Recent anti-body testing suggests that the number of cases in the U.S. has been underreported by a factor of 4 to 24 which translates into 16 to 96 million cases. The reason for such underreporting is that many people have not gotten sick enough to be tested or had no symptoms at all. This is a frightening statistic because we know that those with little or no symptoms could still spread the virus. While my body is successfully fighting off the virus, I could still be passing it on to someone else. The only way to combat the spread of such a virus is to test almost everyone and quarantine everyone who test positive. And this process can only be successful if test results are available almost immediately after being tested.

A delay of several days means I could be spreading the virus while waiting for test results. And even if I don’t have the virus today doesn’t mean I won’t catch it tomorrow. Preventative measures are absolutely necessary to slow the spread. That means wearing a mask, washing hands very frequently using disinfectants, minimizing social contacts, and keeping socially distanced when I need to have human interaction. Little things like buying two weeks’ worth of groceries instead of one have the effect of reducing my contacts. Acting in a manner that anyone you come close to could have the virus would help keep you and others safe. Despite all of us taking all the precautions that we can, this will not stop the spread of the virus, only slow it down. We have already reached the place where this virus will be with us for decades, if not forever just like most of other Coronaviruses that cause the common flu or colds. Only a vaccine will bring the numbers down to manageable numbers.

In the meantime, the best thing we as a society can do is to ramp up testing so that all of us can get tested multiple times. Unfortunately, the Trump administration has failed miserably to get testing where it needs to be. Trump disbanded the federal agency two years ago that was responsible for planning a response to such events. Thus, when the news came that China had a problem no immediate action was taken. And while Trump likes to brag about his stopping flights from Wuhan China, the ban was not managed effectively, leaked like a sieve, and was nowhere near enough to protect us. One strand of the virus came to us from Europe, not China. Trump took no immediate action to ramp up testing, to ensure enough swabs and protective gear like gowns and facemasks would be available, that the chemical agents used in the testing process would be available. Trump was much more effective at preventing a timely response by disbanding the pandemic planning agency than he was at keeping the virus from reaching America. In fact, Trump has never understood and still doesn’t understand the importance of testing.

The first available adequate test was available from WHO by the time we became aware of the need but the Trump administration chose to reinvent the wheel and tried to design a test in America. I suspect there was a profit motive in doing this. Unfortunately, the first couple of attempts to design and manufacture our own test were not successful, costing us very valuable time in responding effectively. By the time our own tests were available and working, we were far behind the curve and many needless deaths and suffering would occur. As soon as Trump realized that increased testing would expose just how ineffective our response was and of his total failure to provide adequate leadership in our time of need, he deliberately slowed the testing down. He has admitted this in his public statements. The testing was slowed down by his administration interfering with the distribution process by seizing orders of testing materials destined for States that had ordered them and moving very slowly to distribute them in a timely manner. He failed to provide adequate funding to ramp up testing. Virtually every other industrialized nation has outperformed us in the testing process. While we have approximately 4% of the world’s population, we have over 25% of the Covid-19 cases. Who would have thought that with all of the medical and industrial resources that the United States possesses, we would be among the worst at responding to this pandemic?

Ron Klain, who served a President Obama’s Ebola czar said, “We had ample notice to get our country ready.” He goes on to list the rolling out of testing, securing protective equipment, and building up hospital capacity as necessary preventative measures. “We spent all of January and February doing none of those things, and as a result, when this disease really exploded in March, we weren’t prepared.”

Sometime in the next four years, there will be another crisis, perhaps military or a major recession or climate change issues. We must have a real leader in the White House when it happens. Trump’s history of failures tells us he is not the one capable to lead us in troubled times. Trump has not passed the test.

-Dick Gale

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