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Covid-19 Testing Must Double Or Triple Before U.S. Can Safely Open, Say Experts

Coronavirus testing must double or triple before U.S. can safely reopen, experts say
"We are an order of magnitude off right now from where we should be," said an expert in infectious disease modeling who advised the Obama administration.
Image: Spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Miami
A homeless woman reacts as a worker uses a swab to collect a sample during a Miami-Dade County testing operation for COVID-19 in Miami on Thursday, April 16, 2020.Marco Bello / Reuters
April 17, 2020, 4:01 AM CDT
By Sarah Fitzpatrick, Heidi Przybyla, Dan De Luce, Laura Strickler and Adiel Kaplan


Testing for the coronavirus would have to be at least doubled or tripled from its current levels to allow for even a partial reopening of America's economy, public health experts say, but it is unclear how soon such an ambitious goal could be reached amid persistent shortages of testing supplies and a lack of coordination from the Trump administration.

Without diagnostic testing on a massive scale, federal and state officials and private companies will lack a clear picture of who has been infected, who can safely return to work, how the virus is spreading and when stay-at-home orders can be eased, public health experts say.


"We are an order of magnitude off right now from where we should be," said Dylan George, an expert in infectious disease modeling who advised the administration of President Barack Obama in combating the Ebola epidemic. "Testing is the perpetual problem here."

Image: Drive-thru coronavirus testing in FloridaMedical workers test people at a drive-thru COVID-19 testing site in the parking lot of Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., on April 2, 2020.Eve Edelheit / Bloomberg via Getty Images file


President Donald Trump announced federal guidelines Thursday to ease stay-at-home orders that leave it up to the states to decide on timing. The president outlined a gradual process that would be based on benchmarks like declines in positive cases.

"We are not opening all at once, but one careful step at a time," Trump said.


The percentage of the U.S. population that has been tested for COVID-19, about 1 percent, remains far too small to consider going back to normal routines, said Dr. Dan Hanfling, who worked in the National Healthcare Preparedness Program during the Obama and Trump administrations.

"I don't think we're near it. I don't think we're close," Hanfling said.

Hanfling welcomed the guidelines issued Thursday and said the language was "appropriately cautious." But he said the recommendations are "highly dependent" on diagnostic and antibody tests' being available. "And we must recognize that both testing capacities currently remain limited," he added.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.


The Trump administration has defended its role in pushing for more testing and said this week that it is preparing an aggressive testing strategy to support plans to reopen the country.

Administration officials are weighing options on how to ratchet up diagnostic testing and testing for coronavirus antibodies, and they are looking at targeting those tests to geographic areas and specific industries, NBC News reported Thursday.


To achieve a massive increase in testing would be a historic undertaking for even the best-staffed, most competent federal government. But the Trump administration has a track record of overpromising and underdelivering on testing.


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