Practically ever since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak in the US, the focus has fallen on a lack of effective testing in the US. Without effective tests, policymakers and public-health officials have had to make decisions in the dark without knowing the extent of infection. Shortages of tests began with the CDC’s fumble at the very beginning and a delay in getting the private sector involved, and that fumble turned into a political football that all sides have kicked around ever since.
Do we now have enough tests to conduct more comprehensive population screening for COVID-19? Indeed we do, but now researchers and policymakers face another shortage — patients. With capacity growing every day, the supply has far outstripped the demand, reports the Washington Post:
Four months into the U.S. coronavirus outbreak, tests for the virus finally are becoming widely available, a crucial step toward lifting stay-at-home orders and safely returning to normal life. But while many states no longer report crippling supply shortages, a new problem has emerged: too few people lining up to get tested.
A Washington Post survey of governors’ offices and state health departments found at least a dozen states where testing capacity outstrips the supply of patients. Many have scrambled to make testing more convenient, especially for vulnerable communities, by setting up pop-up sites and developing apps that help assess symptoms, find free test sites and deliver quick results.
But the numbers, while rising, are well short of capacity — and far short of targets set by independent experts. Utah, for example, is conducting about 3,500 tests a day, a little more than a third of its 9,000-test maximum capacity, and health officials have erected highway billboards begging drivers to “GET TESTED FOR COVID-19.”