COVID-19 is an American catastrophe, a slow-motion disaster only now coming into view. When its true proportions have been measured, it will make the early government response look even more outrageous than it already seems. What’s happening here, in this country, was avoidable. Nearly every flaw in America’s response to the virus has one source: America did not test enough people for COVID-19.
Testing should have told doctors how to triage patients and hospitals when to prepare their wards. It should have allowed governors to gauge the severity of a local outbreak and informed federal officials as they allocated scarce masks and ventilators. Testing should have answered the all-important question in any pandemic: How many people are sick right now? Had the nation known that, the systems that were put into place over years of pandemic planning could have powered on, protecting millions of Americans and containing the illness.
Instead, the CDC botched its own test development. It sent testing kits to state public-health labs with a nonfunctioning ingredient. And by then, the virus was already spreading. It was already spreading as the Food and Drug Administration held up independent labs that had made their own tests. It was spreading as samples piled up, as the world’s top virology researchers pleaded to be permitted to test them and as the FDA denied their requests.