It is an absolutely constant refrain these days – both in the media and among the general population – that the core issue with the American response to the coronavirus is the lack of testing. Extreme testing for the virus in other countries did not yield more dire results. In fact, it yielded the opposite – lower mortality and hospitalization rates.
There is overwhelming demand for coronavirus tests now and not enough test kits to go around. Part of this is due to the unrelenting avalanche of media hype, not logistical issues in health care. The media are attached to dire predictions because they operate on a clickbait formula. These dire projections are absolutely not based on science – regardless of what they or some politicians suggest. They assume most of the US population is yet to be infected and will be infected in coming days. This is precisely the logic that the folks at Oxford and Stanford have been trying to dispel. Chances are, most of the population has already been exposed and didn’t even notice it.
Hospitals and testing centers are being flooded with people who do not need to be tested. More than 90% of the tests performed are coming back negative, because they are being given to people who are jacked up on cable news, not the people who are exposed or symptomatic. A friend of mine who is a hospital executive was telling me their ER can barely function thanks to healthy people flooding it demanding to be tested. They think it is an emergency, they know there are limited tests, they want theirs first and screw everyone else.
Some states are now doing batch testing to limit the wasted resources this situation involves. This means they test several people with the same kit, and only retest if someone comes back positive. This is one way to limit all the dumbasses from costing hospitals precious resources. If 90% are going to be negative, then they can all go into the same kit.
But the thing is, you could give all of the people who want a test a test today, and they would want another one tomorrow because they aren’t going to be any less paranoid tomorrow. This situation is not all that different from the hoarding behavior in grocery stores. And they’ll play this game for weeks on end. I had to go buy toilet paper and humanity was out there, I need a new test.
Right now, the most useful investment in testing is what Cuomo has proposed, which he has taken from the Oxford and Stanford folks and the practices in European countries – antibody testing. It’s a much simpler enterprise logistically and it’s smarter mathematically. Instead of looking for the small number of people who have it now – and don’t feed me innumerate nonsense about how a thousand people in a state with tens of millions of people is a “large” number, it’s not, even if CNN has a giant circle around your municipality on their Very Serious Chart – find the people who have already had it. Then start putting them back to work and getting our economy back up and running NOW.
At this point, the main purpose of testing is not about managing the epidemic. It’s about proving that bad economic policy is bad economic policy. It’s about trying to prove a counterfactual because people have irrationally developed increasingly dire projections from a total lack of evidence, when they could have just as easily gone the other way if they weren’t reading non-stop fake stories about hospital death panels and people eating fish tank cleaner.
We just received a huge stimulus, but we can’t repeat that behavior over and over and pretend our money is worth anything. Anyone who wants to follow the folks who think we can shut the economy down for months or even a year is voting for no one to have access to health care further down the line.
It takes an economy to operate a health care system. And the only people standing in the way of having an economy are people who are denying the emerging consensus among epidemiologists that one guy’s model vastly exaggerated the impact of the virus.