While Donald Trump was boasting to his North Carolina rally crowd Monday night about how the United States is “leading” in coronavirus research, the truth is all too sadly just the opposite. While other countries have done a great deal of surveillance testing, U.S. efforts have fallen short due to delays caused by problems in CDC testing, complicated further by problems with a faulty lab. And Alex Azar, replaced on Wednesday by Mike Pence as head of the coronavirus task force, is seen as largely to blame. Politico:
Even as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention takes blame for testing delays that may have led to hundreds of Americans being infected with the coronavirus, officials inside the health agency and the White House are increasingly pointing the finger at one leader: Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, who they say failed to coordinate the response, as agency chiefs waited for instructions that came too late and other deputies were largely cut out of the process.
Numerous problems with the Trump administration’s testing regimen have come to light: Coronavirus tests developed by CDC were flawed, possibly because the lab itself was contaminated. The resulting lack of test capacity forced U.S. officials to screen a limited number of patients in January and February, with the CDC testing fewer than 500 Americans at the same time that China was likely testing at least 1 million of its own residents. Meanwhile, public health officials had no fallback testing option until the Food and Drug Administration granted approval for hospitals and other labs to develop their own homegrown tests on Saturday — more than six weeks after the first U.S. case of coronavirus was identified. […]
“This was a management failure,” said one administration official, charging that Azar didn’t adequately plan for a worst-case coronavirus scenario that’s grown more likely by the day — even though Azar touted his bona fides as a veteran of the George W. Bush administration, where he helped fight crises like SARS and an anthrax scare. “CDC and FDA should have been working hand in hand to get Plan B, Plan C and Plan D ready to go,” the official said.
The ramifications of all this incompetence are simple yet terrifying. We don’t know what we’re dealing with, because we haven’t been doing the testing that China and other countries have been doing. What that means is that since we’re not becoming aware of the dimensions of the epidemic through normal channels, i.e. research, we may only become aware of it on the other end, when hordes of people come down sick and begin crowding out ER facilities. And at that time it will be late to save a of people.