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Coronavirus Mismanagement Is Risking American Lives

This article by ACCESS Health Chair and President William A. Haseltine originally appeared in Forbes.

It is now clear that the U.S. response to the potential dangers of the coronavirus infection is inadequate, confused, and—worst of all—putting us all at much greater risk than we need to be.

Our first mistake was in choosing to develop our own diagnostic testing kits, instead of following the available WHO guidelines. It  took more than a month since the beginning of the outbreak for the CDC to deliver tests to a handful of labs across the country, only to discover that the kits that were sent were flawed. 

The second mistake was in determining who qualified for testing. Initially only patients with recent travel to China and who showed symptoms of COVID-19 were approved for testing. It was only this week, on Tuesday, when the administration relented and allowed all Americans to be tested, if needed.

But even with this step forward, our mistakes continue. Our government is now punting the testing problem down to the States. While finally allowing States to develop their own FDA approved testing kits to make testing more available, the government is now holding States solely accountable for tracking the number of people tested. On Monday, the CDC stopped reporting national numbers of people tested on their website, claiming that now that States were conducting tests themselves the CDC no longer had the most up to date figures. 

Without clear reporting from the CDC or transparent communication from the administration, the scope of the outbreak in America is still a complete unknown. A new analysis out of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle suggests that this new strain of coronavirus has been spreading unseen and undetected in the area for weeks. Some models suggest up to 1,500 people could already be infected in the greater Seattle area alone. 

Calling out the government for their failures isn’t about politicizing public health—it’s about protecting our nation from a growing danger. The mistakes we made allowed COVID-19 to come to our country unseen and undetected. The mistakes allowed the virus to spread to places like the Life Care Center, where more than 50 residents and staff continue to struggle with the disease, and seven residents—the oldest and most vulnerable among us—have died. 

And the mistakes we continue to make in shielding the facts from Americans is making it harder for us to make the tough decisions around possible self-quarantines, social distancing measures, and school or business related shutdowns. 

It is astounding that while China can now distribute more than a million tests per week and South Korea has rolled out drive-thru testing clinics and disinfecting drones, we have no one in government who can give us clear numbers around how many Americans have been tested and how many patients are under investigation for the disease.

We can and should do better. The administration, Congress, and our entire government leadership must be called on to deliver a more transparent, a more effective, and a more robust response than what we have done to date.