Jul 27, 2020
Rapid coronavirus testing paired with rapid contact tracing (warning everyone who has been exposed)—has worked in multiple countries to slow the spread of COVID-19. A 24-hour turnaround time on test results works best, according to a new study in The Lancet Public Health journal.
As dozens of states are on fire with new virus cases, a 24-hour turnaround on tests has become nearly impossible. Why? The need for testing outstrips capacity. It is taking 2 weeks and more for many to get their test results.
The U.S. went from testing hundreds per day in March to doing 700,000 tests a day in July, but testing capacity can’t keep up with the need.
According to a public health advocate at the Kaiser Family Foundation, “There’s the testing capacity you need to get to the place of opening up, then there’s the testing capacity you need to be open.”
Enormous numbers of people are getting swabbed, but shortages of processing supplies, of machines, and of workers—means laboratories can’t keep up.
New York Times reporters have interviewed lab workers in multiple states who say they are exhausted. Some are regularly working 12-hour days and weekends.
While some COVID-19 tests are done by a rapid, cartridge-based method—often used for hospitalized patients—most tests are done by commercial labs.
Similar to what happened in other sectors of this capitalist economy in recent decades, groups of Wall Street investors created two giant U.S. laboratory corporations—Quest Diagnostics and Lab Corps. Many labs and lab supply companies were intentionally closed to cut costs and boost profits along the way.
Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, said on MSNBC that testing lags will make it significantly harder to stop transmission of the virus. For months, public health experts have been warning that more widespread testing must happen.
Valuable time was wasted. No ramping up of testing happened among those must vulnerable to this illness. The elderly, front line workers, and Black, Latino and Native American communities have suffered the most fatalities because of this atrocious lack of action.
Researchers are now worried that the coming flu season will exacerbate shortages. Already, hospital labs have had to cut corners. “Every resource is going toward COVID,” said one official.
The workers, scientists and public health experts who do the work know full well what needs to be done to bring COVID-19 under control. If workers were running the economy in the interest of humanity, these problems would have been solved months ago with no valuable time wasted.