Coronavirus Updates from the Front

We’ve hit yet another shocking and tragic milestone: More than 1 million Americans are confirmed through testing to have been infected with the coronavirus, and the real number is far higher than that because of all the testing that’s not being done. That’s one-third of all the cases in the world. Here in the richest, most technologically advanced, medical mecca. Right.

Today’s US coronavirus numbers:
Total cases: 1,002,498 (it was 883,826 at this time Friday)
Total deaths: 57,533 (it was 50,373 on Friday)

Testing, testing, testing. It’s the most critical thing that public health officials, epidemiologists, respiratory disease specialists, scientists, and researchers say the country can do now to slow down the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

Widespread testing is essential so that those who are infected but not showing any symptoms can be identified and isolated so they don’t spread the virus. As one expert put it, find the hot spots before they become raging wildfires of infection.

How do you know if you are doing enough testing? The World Health Organization says that if fewer than 10 percent of the people tested are infected, then a country is doing an adequate amount of testing.

Epidemiologists say that’s too high; the standard they use for influenza and tuberculosis is that if more than 3 percent of those tested are positive, then you’re not casting your net wide enough and you have to do more widespread testing.

Given that the US positive results rate is close to 20 percent, it’s going to be difficult to get down to 10 percent, let alone 3 percent.

Early on, Trump pooh-poohed the virus, claiming it would just blow away or wash away one day like a miracle. His administration botched the manufacture and delivery of critical supplies to health care workers, sent out a test that didn’t work, and was excruciatingly slow to get test kits to states clamoring for them.

Now experts say he’s fumbling the next critical task: Making sure enough people are tested and then isolated to be able to figure out when states really should start easing restrictions.

(Given the way some people are acting in states that have already started easing restrictions — flocking to beaches without maintaining physical distancing, for example — what we really need to ramp up is IQ testing.)

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert, says testing for the novel coronavirus must be doubled before the US should even consider easing restrictions. There currently are about 1.6 million tests being performed every week; Fauci says that should be at least 3 million per week.

Harvard researchers calculated that the US should be doing 5 million tests a day, distributed unevenly across the states depending the size of each state’s outbreak.

To figure out how many tests each state should be doing, the Harvard Global Health Institute took the WHO’s 10 percent benchmark and applied it to each US state, calculating how many tests each would have to be performing by May 1 in order to reach that below-10-percent-positive goal.

The result wasn’t pretty: More than half will have to significantly ramp up their Covid-19 testing to even consider starting to relax stay-at-home orders after May 1, according to STAT.

What’s disturbing is that some states that have already started easing restrictions on businesses and gatherings aren’t doing anywhere near enough testing: Georgia should be administering 9,600 to 10,000 tests per day; it has been averaging around 4,000. Florida has to do 16,000 a day; it’s doing just over 10,000.

And you can ignore what Trump said yesterday about his new testing plan, claiming that the US is on track to double the amount of testing being done but providing no details and continuing to insist it’s up to the states because, you know, he might actually be held responsible for something.

Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, agrees with the need for far more testing in the US than is being done now, but recently has been touting antigen testing, which is a simpler test that delivers fast results — as little as 15 minutes. But the tests aren’t easy to make, and it takes a lot of time and money to validate their accuracy. Here’s an explainer from CNN.

Last word from Fauci about the states that are loosening restrictions: “If we are unsuccessful, or prematurely try to open up, and we have additional outbreaks that are out of control, it could be a rebound to get us right back in the same boat that we were in a few weeks ago.”

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