But the other category of failure exposed by the coronavirus pandemic will prove more difficult to remedy: the red tape that gets in the way of an efficient response. The state must play a big part in pandemic response, yet it has also been a big part of the problem.
The most glaring, consequential example concerns testing for the coronavirus. As is well known, the original test developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention didn’t work. Compounding the problem, bureaucracy got in the way of scientists who were on a better track. In January, a virology lab at the University of Washington developed its own test. But after Azar “declared a public-health emergency, on February 4th, a new regulatory regime took effect,” Robert P. Baird reported in The New Yorker. “From that point on, any lab that wanted to conduct its own tests for the new coronavirus would first need to secure something called an Emergency Use Authorization from the F.D.A.” Even after clearing needless bureaucratic hurdles, the lab was barred from conducting clinical coronavirus tests and from reporting results to doctors who ordered tests for patients.
Other, less extreme examples are easy to find. An entrepreneur struggling to ramp up production of N95 masks reports that new entrants to such manufacturing face a thicket of requirements that are time-consuming and over-the-top. Jeremy Samuel Faust, a Harvard Medical School instructor and emergency-room physician, warns in The Washington Post that state governments need to lift medical-malpractice standards, because they will interfere with doctors’ ability to treat critically ill patients in extreme circumstances. “The change need not, and should not, be permanent,” he says. “A three-month suspension would be enough. But we need to make this change immediately.”