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Biden Calls for More Coronavirus Testing, Offers No Solution for Shortages

Biden Calls for More Coronavirus Testing, Offers No Solution for Shortages
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Former Vice President Joe Biden offered his own plan for the federal government’s response to the Coronavirus pandemic on Thursday, and it includes a call for more testing immediately.

“The administration’s failure on testing is colossal, and it’s a failure of leadership, planning and execution. The White House should measure and report each day, each and every day, how many tests have been ordered, how many tests have been completed, and how many have tested positive. By next week the number of tests should be in the millions, not the thousands,” Biden said at the press conference where he announced his plan. (emphasis added)

Biden did not specify how he would deal with the critical problem that has been identified as a barrier to making the tests more widely available: the shortage of key materials necessary to produce the tests combined with high demand for tests in other countries.

Biden’s assertion that the number of Coronavirus (COVID-19) tests to be conducted in the United States “should be in the millions . . . by next week” appears to significantly beyond any realistic assessment of what is logistically possible.

About 600,000 Coronavirus tests have been conducted in eight countries that have experienced outbreaks since the virus first surfaced in Wuhan, China back in December, Business Insider reports.

As of March 8, the breakdown of the number of tests completed by country, according to Business Insider, is:

  • 320,000 in Guangdong Province China (up to February 28)
  • 189,236 in South Korea
  • 49,937 in Italy
  • 23,513 in the United Kingdom
  • 8,411 in Japan (March 4)
  • 6,000 in the Netherlands
  • 3,451 in Israel
  • 1,707 in the United States (based on CDC and does not include accurate test counts performed at state, local, private, and commercial labs)

The most recent estimate of the total number of Coronavirus tests conducted in the United States as of Thursday in any venue is about 5,000.

Biden’s plan offered no specifics as to how 995,000 additional Coronavirus tests could be administered next week in the United States.

Politico reported on Tuesday that the ability to ramp up testing is being hampered by limited availability of key materials.

A looming shortage in lab materials is threatening to delay coronavirus test results and cause officials to undercount the number of Americans with the virus. . .

CDC Director Robert Redfield told POLITICO on Tuesday that he is not confident that U.S. labs have an adequate stock of the supplies used to extract genetic material from any virus in a patient’s sample — a critical step in coronavirus testing.

“The availability of those reagents is obviously being looked at,” he said, referring to the chemicals used for preparing samples. “I’m confident of the actual test that we have, but as people begin to operationalize the test, they realize there’s other things they need to do the test.”

Biden’s plan announced on Thursday does not specify the cost associated with these recommendations. Instead, it states that “Biden believes we must spend whatever it takes, without delay, to meet public health needs and deal with the mounting economic consequences.”

“The American people deserve an urgent, robust, and professional response to the growing public health and economic crisis caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak,” the statement announcing his plan begins:

That is why Joe Biden is outlining a plan to mount:

  • A decisive public health response that ensures the wide availability of free testing; the elimination of all cost barriers to preventive care and treatment for COVID-19; the development of a vaccine; and the full deployment and operation of necessary supplies, personnel, and facilities.
  • A decisive economic response that starts with emergency paid leave for all those affected by the outbreak and gives all necessary help to workers, families, and small businesses that are hit hard by this crisis. Make no mistake: this will require an immediate set of ambitious and progressive economic measures, and further decisive action to address the larger macro-economic shock from this outbreak.

Biden’s plan focuses on the need for more testing, echoing a theme first advanced by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi minutes after President Trump addressed the nation on Wednesday night. His plan identifies five specific recommendations for Coronavirus testing under the heading “Make Corona Testing Widely Available and Free.”

  • Ensure that every person who needs a test can get one – and that testing for those who need it is free. Individuals should also not have to pay anything out of their own pockets for the visit at which the test is ordered, regardless of their immigration status. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) must draw on advice from outside scientists to clarify the criteria for testing, including consideration of prioritizing first responders and health care workers so they can return to addressing the crisis.
  • Establish at least ten mobile testing sites and drive-through facilities per state to speed testing and protect health care workers. Starting in large cities and rapidly expanding beyond, the CDC must work with private labs and manufacturers to ensure adequate production capacity, quality control, training, and technical assistance. The number of tests must be in the millions, not the thousands.
  • Provide a daily public White House report on how many tests have been done by the CDC, state and local health authorities, and private laboratories.
  • Expand CDC sentinel surveillance programs and other surveillance programs so that we can offer tests not only only to those who ask but also to those who may not know to ask, especially vulnerable populations like nursing home patients and people with underlying medical conditions. This must be done in collaboration with private sector health care entities.
  • Task the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to help establish a diagnosis code for COVID-19 on an emergency basis so that surveillance can be done using claims data.

In Congressional testimony on Thursday, a key member of the Trump administration conceded that the current testing plan “is failing,’ the Wall Street Journal reported:

The federal government’s top infectious-disease doctor said the nation’s system for disease testing has failed during the coronavirus outbreak because people typically need a doctor’s permission to be tested.

“The system is not really geared to what we need right now,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, testified Thursday at a congressional hearing. “That is a failing. It is a failing. Let’s admit it.” . . .

In testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, Dr. Fauci said the nation’s system is set up for doctors to request tests be done, but not for patients to pursue testing on their own.

“You put it out in the public and a physician asks for it and you get it,” Dr. Fauci told lawmakers. “The idea of anybody getting it easily, the way people in other countries are doing it, we’re not set up for that. Do I think we should be? Yes, but we are not.”

Fox News reported on Wednesday that Vice President Pence is focused on cutting red tape to get more Coronavirus test kits manufactured and distributed:

The COVID-19 test requires three culture swabs: one from the nose, one from the throat and one from the lower lungs. The test requires a person to inhale deeply, cough and spit up saliva and mucus into a sterile collection cup.

Pence said that the president’s most important move was bringing in the leaders from the top commercial laboratories in the country, such as Quest and LabCorp, to work with their administration. Pence said that they have already approved a test that is being processed for mass distribution.

“We’re clearing the red tape out of the way. That’s going to be the way that in the days ahead we’re going to have a broad-based test available across the country,” he said.

The Trump campaign immediately punched back Thursday afternoon at Biden’s Coronavirus plan:

In the past, Joe Biden has shown terrible judgment and incompetence in the face of public health issues. The Obama White House had to publicly apologize for and clean up after Biden when his irresponsible remarks caused panic during the swine flu outbreak in 2009. Just weeks ago, he was openly critical of President Trump’s early move to restrict travel from China to the United States in response to the coronavirus – a decision which medical experts agree helped impede the spread of the virus to this country.

Yesterday his campaign actually raised the vile conspiracy theory that the President purposely allowed the coronavirus to spread. In times like this, America needs leadership and Biden has shown none. President Trump acted early and decisively and has put the United States on stronger footing than other nations. His every move has been aimed at keeping Americans safe, while Joe Biden has sought to capitalize politically and stoke citizens’ fears.

While the Trump administration response to date on getting Coronavirus tests out as widely as many health experts believe they should be has been criticized from both sides of the aisle, the Biden plan announced today appears to offer little in the way of practical recommendations to achieve that objective more readily.

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