The Atlantic advises, "Stop wasting COVID tests, people"

The Atlantic advises, "Stop wasting COVID tests, people"
AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

Yesterday, The Atlantic published something that Jim Geraghty of National Review described as “a major media reversal on COVID alarmism.” After nearly daily publications of doom and gloom regarding the pandemic since the virus first arrived on our shores, the magazine gave space to Dr. Benjamin Mazer, a physician who specializes in laboratory medicine. The rather blunt title of the essay was, “Stop Wasting COVID Tests, People.” What Mazer is advising will likely come as common sense to many people who have been following the latest news about the pandemic and who can do basic math without removing their shoes and socks. This excerpt is from the original Atlantic piece.

Many of those queuing up for tests this week have little choice about the matter; negative results can be required for travel or school or access to public venues. But other types of COVID screening — before and after family gatherings, for instance, or while visiting nearby vacation destinations — are optional. It might seem reckless to suggest that people undergo less surveillance; indeed, the standard expert’s take has been the opposite, that we all should screen ourselves as often as possible in order to help reduce community spread. But even with increased testing, we stand little chance of controlling Omicron this winter at the population level. And testing is, for now, a zero-sum game. Each unnecessary swab that you consume means one fewer is available for more important purposes — such as diagnosing a symptomatic infection. . . .

Everyone should do what they can to free testing resources for those with symptoms. We should also try to allocate tests based on underlying risks. The unvaccinated are, overall, most in danger of being hospitalized and dying from the virus, so they are also, overall, the people who benefit the most from having those around them screened for infection.

This should have been obvious from the beginning and we shouldn’t need an expert in infectious diseases to tell us. The reality is that there are a limited number of COVID tests coming off the production lines and there are a lot of people in this country, to say nothing of the entire planet. The people least at risk of contracting COVID and having a serious or fatal outcome from it are the vaccinated who are young and healthy and likely associate primarily with others in the same category. Forcing them to be tested on a regular basis or inviting them to hoard test kits that are in short supply isn’t just bad policy. It’s dangerous for the general population.

While Mazer doesn’t go on to say this specifically, there is another, related fact that should be almost equally obvious. If we continue to push for the “test everybody all of the time” approach, we will not only use up the available test kits faster, but we will produce a lot more positive results. Many of those will come from people who were either asymptomatic or had such mild symptoms that they normally wouldn’t have bothered going for a test. Others will turn out to be false positives, as we’ve seen on a disturbingly regular basis, along with false-negative results. But all of those positive test results will simply drive up the numbers and the communal anxiety at the same time.

All of that seems rather obvious, but Jim’s point in publishing this piece had less to do with the actual news Mazer was delivering than the way The Atlantic has handled this subject for the past two years. Here’s a brief reminder of the magazine’s track record.

Day after day, week after week, that publication offers at least one article or personal essay that warns you that, as bad as things may seem, they’re actually much worse and will probably get even worse tomorrow, all with a headline perfectly calibrated to go viral, no pun intended, among the most Covid-concerned: “Georgia’s Experiment in Human Sacrifice.” “We Know Enough About Omicron to Know That We’re in Trouble.” “Covid Is Not Endemic Yet — And May Not Be for a Long Time.” “You Can Get COVID and the Flu at the Same Time.” “America Can’t Beat Omicron One Booster at a Time.”

The only thing that scares the staff of The Atlantic magazine more than Covid-19 is Kevin D. Williamson.

I was criticized recently on social media by a more liberal follower who accused me of somehow downplaying the pandemic by using the phrase, “COVID alarmism.” It’s an argument that I flatly reject. I have never said so much as once that the disease isn’t serious or worthy of careful study, research, and reasonable precautions. But the fact is that while COVID may be slightly more serious than the seasonal flu, it’s not that much worse. We’re not talking about the next edition of the Black Plague here. And now that Pandora’s box has been cracked open, it’s probably not going away for a very long time, if ever.

The media has a responsibility to report the facts and present useful information so people can make informed decisions about their own personal healthcare and the mitigation efforts they believe will be helpful to themselves and others. What they shouldn’t be doing is painting a Chicken Little, “sky is falling” scenario all day, every day, and trying to frighten people into submission. I know that they managed to turn me off to much of this subject long ago, particularly the idea that cloth masks do much of anything for anyone. As I’ve confessed here repeatedly, my wife and I made the decision to get vaccinated originally based on research we conducted and long discussions with our doctor. We also more recently got the booster. But I’m not a doctor and I wouldn’t suggest that anyone else should or shouldn’t do it. I’m also not terribly worried about the unvaccinated posing a threat to me. For some people, it’s not the right choice. For others it is. But it’s not the government’s place to use the virus as an excuse to whip everyone into compliance and the media should not be abetting them in those efforts.

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