We’re Being Tested, But Not in the Right Way

There is good news on the coronavirus front. But not in this country.

From the Popular Information newsletter:

South Korea, a country of about 51 million people, conducted nearly 200,000 tests as of Monday. In South Korea, you could get tested for coronavirus in a drive-thru lane, without ever getting out of your car. The strategy appears to be working. “[T]he country has seen a steady decline in new infections over the last few days,” NBC News reports.

Initially, the United States conducted very few tests because the T—- administration decided to develop its own test kit rather than using functional kits from the World Health Organization or commercial suppliers. That test did not function properly.

But that problem appears to be solved….

So how many Americans have been tested? The CDC is not releasing comprehensive data on testing, so the best information comes from three guys updating a Google Doc. Aggregating state data, they’ve found only 7,695 Americans have been tested, as of Wednesday evening [NOTE: The latest number is 8,909 — but if we were conducting tests at the same rate as South Korea, we might have done 1.2 million by now].

As a result, coronavirus is still spreading undetected in many communities….The lack of testing increases the chances that things will get much worse.

As it turns out, having a functional test kit isn’t enough to perform a coronavirus test. You also need something called an “RNA extraction” kit to “prepare samples for testing.” And there is a shortage of these RNA extraction kits in labs across the country.

CDC Director Robert Redfield admitted to Politico that the shortage of RNA extraction kits was a major roadblock. “I’m confident of the actual test that we have, but as people begin to operationalize the test, they realize there’s other things they need to do the test,” Redfield said. Asked what he would do to address the shortage, Redfield replied, “I don’t know the answer to that question”….

The main supplier of RNA extraction kits is Qiagen, a Dutch diagnostics company. Qiagen “confirmed that its product is backordered due to ‘the extraordinary pace’ at which the world has increased coronavirus testing over the last few weeks.” In other words, other countries obtained the supplies they needed to conduct testing faster than the United States. Now that T—- administration officials realize that testing needs to accelerate quickly, the supplies are no longer available.

Here is what Dr. Marc Lipsitch, a professor of epidemiology at Harvard, had to say about the inability of the United States to conduct testing at scale:

The lack of testing in the United States is a debacle. We’re supposed to be the best biomedical powerhouse in the world and we’re unable to do something almost every other country is doing on an orders of magnitude bigger scale.

Recall that the administration had people with the relevant background and expertise to handle this precise situation. T—- fired them in 2018 and never replaced them….

Asked about the reduction in expert staff, T—- defended the decision and said he could get the experts back “quickly” if needed.

Unquote.

We’re lucky that something like COVID-19 didn’t come along sooner. We’ve been at elevated risk since T—- sat down in the Oval Office. (Actually, it did come along sooner when hurricane Maria destroyed much of Puerto Rico in 2017, but nobody much cared about a horrible government response to a disaster that didn’t affect “real” Americans.)

An Open Letter to the Times on That Same Subject

After reading about whom Warren’s supporters will now favor:

Speaking as an over-65, over-educated, previously over-compensated white man who strongly believes in the progressive goals she and Senator Sanders espouse, Senator Warren was the most exciting, best-qualified presidential candidate of my lifetime. I was convinced early on that she would be our next president and supported her campaign. How could such a warm, talented woman with an anti-corruption message fail to attract a majority? Now we know.

Now that she’s dropped out, she’s on the front page everywhere with lots of positive coverage. It’s funny how that works (compare Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State vs. presidential candidate).

I can’t generate any enthusiasm for Biden or Sanders. I don’t see Sanders as a successful president, even if he were elected. He lacks the political skills. I don’t see Biden as successful either. He’s from another political era.

If Biden is the nominee, Sanders needs to strongly encourage his supporters to fight for Democrats everywhere on the ballot. My hope is that Mr. Biden will pick a talented, progressive running mate (a senator from Massachusetts, for example) and, if he’s lost too much of his energy and mental edge by 2021, he will graciously retire. He can always point out that a presidential campaign takes a lot out of a person.