Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, National Governors Association leader, asked President Trump to invoke the Defense Production Act to expedite COVID-19 test production. Trump’s response was that the U.S. already leads the world in testing.
On April 20, the cumulative total number of tests conducted in the U.S. reached 4 million: more tests than any other country had performed. However, a more relevant public-health metric is the number of tests per 1,000 persons in a population. By that metric, the U.S. comes in 42nd in the world (worldometers.info/coronavirus/#countries). Only 1.2 percent of Americans have been tested!
And the size of a country’s population is not the only relevant consideration. Testing is not a one-person, one-time event. It’s a monitoring tool that needs to be done repeatedly and on an ongoing basis. The number of tests needed daily depends on the stage of the epidemic, the number of outbreaks, hospitalization rates, the number of cases and contacts, and decisions about the testing strategy: Is testing going to be done at random, or will it be targeted, for example, at nursing homes, front-line health workers and essential service providers? Dr. Thomas Frieden, former director of the Centers for Disease Control, estimates that providing front-line workers with adequate testing would require at least three times the 145,000 tests that are currently being produced daily. To do it on a wider scale for general monitoring purposes would require increasing the number of tests by a factor of 30 (preventepidemics.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/BoxItInBriefingDoc.pdf).
President Trump is responsible for the spread of the virus, harm to many, and death to some people he was elected to represent. How much longer will he dawdle? How many more Americans will die?
Trump needs to invoke the Defense Production Act and accelerate production of tests and other essential materials that he has known for months were in short supply. Trump needs to get out of the way. We must elect representatives who understand health.
Ron Vande Walle
Fish Creek, Wisconsin