It has been widely talked about for several weeks. The first test kits for COVID-19 that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) laboratories in Atlanta developed were ineffective. These tests were sent to almost all of the 100 state and local public health labs across the country by February 7th and by the next day officials at these facilities realized that the tests were not working correctly. Many public health officials agree this led the country to get even further behind in testing and has had an enormous impact on understanding the true spread of the virus.
Since one of the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) roles is to oversee laboratory testing, they sent several officials to investigate what happened. According to a statement issued this morning by these officials, two of the three CDC labs didn’t follow their own manufacturing standards when producing the testing kits. In addition, they found a significant lack of expertise in commercial manufacturing and that there wasn’t a specific person in charge of the overall process. The investigation discovered practices taking place that caused the test kits to be contaminated with COVID-19. Two examples of this were personnel entering and exiting the coronavirus laboratories without changing their coats and test ingredients were being assembled in the same room where others were working with positive coronavirus samples.
These finding highlight the fact that the federal government was unprepared and has repeatedly failed when it comes to dealing with the virus. Per many public health officials and epidemiologists this is just one instance were the lack of consistent, reliable testing across the country has not allowed there to be determined an accurate prevalence of the infection. This point of view is completely opposite of what the President says almost daily, which is that we have greater testing capacity than anywhere else in the world and have been doing a great job of testing.
This information is being revealed at a time when some areas throughout the country are considering trying to reopen. According to Harvard University researchers, we don’t have enough tests yet to know if this is safe. They feel that the US would not be able to safely reopen based on the current number of tests being done per day. In order to get to a point where we would have a better understanding if it’s safe or not, they say we need to do more than three times the current number of tests per day and it would need to be done at these elevated numbers for the next month.
Putting this into hard numbers, the COVID Tracking Project says that an average of 146,000 people is tested per day throughout the month of April and a total of 3.6 million tests have been completed. So far, about 20 percent of individuals that have been tested are positive for the virus. According to the Harvard researchers, this number is too high and they point out that if there is a high positive rate, then a good portion of the people who haven’t been tested are likely to have the virus. They say that if the goal is to open the country by mid-May, then there should be somewhere between 500,000 to 700,000 tests done per day between now and then.
By expanding testing, it could reduce the rate to 10 percent. This is the maximum rate recommended by the World Health Organization. To put it in perspective, Germany is at 7 percent and South Korea is around 3 percent. Since the US has the highest number of cases in the world at 695,000 and we don’t have accurate testing, our numbers could be significantly higher than they already are.