The coronavirus crisis is quickly devolving into the latest front in the never-ending culture war. Donald Trump supporters increasingly allege that COVID-19 fears are overblown, while his opponents argue the White House is failing to protect Americans from a deadly threat.
This all came to a head this week when CNN host Chris Cuomo accused the president of covering up the true nature of the pandemic for political gain.
Cuomo – who contracted coronavirus in March – says Trump refuses to ramp up testing capabilities because he doesn’t want voters to know how widespread the outbreak really is.
Soon after Cuomo launched his attack, research from Harvard University showed just how poor the country’s testing capabilities actually are.
Mike Pence and Donald Trump are congratulating themselves because the U.S. health system is conducting around 250,000 tests per day, but the study shows that’s less than a third of the tests necessary to reopen the economy safely.
Harvard’s Global Health Institute estimates the U.S. should be conducting more than 900,000 tests a day.
That’s nearly double the 500,000 daily tests it previously recommended. It turns out the outbreak in America is much larger than initially believed.
Just in the last few weeks, all of the models have converged on many more people getting infected and many more people [dying].
The World Health Organization and most epidemiologists say watching the positivity rate is the best way to determine how much testing is necessary. WHO guidelines say officials should target a positivity rate of 10% or lower.
High positivity rests suggest two things, neither of which bolsters the argument to end the lockdown. Either the outbreak remains severe, or testing is confined to people who are symptomatic or otherwise likely have the virus.
That means asymptomatic people and others with mild cases could still be walking around infecting people. These hidden coronavirus patients could unwittingly spread the virus and cause the local outbreak to spiral out of control.
The Harvard study shows that only nine states are anywhere close to the benchmark. Yet nearly triple that number have already relaxed social distancing measures.
Nebraska, for instance, doesn’t have any lockdown measures in place . The positivity rate there is 24.5%— more than double what the WHO considers adequate.
The Harvard study reinforces what countries that have been successful in controlling the pandemic are doing.
In Germany, lockdown measures are slowly being lifted successfully without any marked rise in the number of infections. The positivity rate there is just 8%; in the U.S., that figure is nearly double at 15%.
Without a clear picture of who’s infected and enough testing facilities to monitor rising cases, Harvard Global Health Institute Director Dr. Ashish Jha says we risk undoing all of the positives that came from the past few weeks of lockdown.
Ultimately, I am deeply worried that four, six, eight weeks down the road we’re going to find ourselves in the exact same place we were in early March, and we will have to shut the economy down again
You’d be hard-pressed to find a health expert who says testing isn’t vital to controlling coronavirus in the absence of a proven treatment.
And it’s rare to find a world leader encouraging their citizens to mistrust medical advice. Outside of Donald Trump, anyway.
If Trump would just admit his administration’s coronavirus testing blunders, you might be able to get on board with his brand of “cheerleading.”
But his refusal to acknowledge the real state of the coronavirus outbreak – not to mention the looming threat of a second wave – reinforces arguments like those lobbed by Cuomo.
Maybe Trump is banking on a vaccine that will make handling a second outbreak easier. Perhaps he’s hoping to conceal the breadth of the crisis ahead of a legacy-defining election.
But whatever the reason, he seems more focused on saving the economy than the lives of the Americans he’s recklessly encouraging to rush back into it.