Make Sure Everyone Who Needs a Test Gets a Test

By Matt Wellington
Director, Campaigns To Stop The Overuse of Antibiotics & End The Nicotine Trap

“We have a simple message to all countries -- test, test, test”

-- World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

That was the clear recommendation made by the head of the world’s top health organization at a news conference earlier this week about the pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus.  

It’s also U.S. PIRG’s message. 

That’s why we are calling on Adm. Brett Giroir, who is the Assistant Secretary for Health and the federal point person for COVID-19 testing response, to immediately adopt and follow through on a plan to make sure that everyone who needs a test, gets a test. 

As the virus spreads in the United States, hitting all 50 states, radically changing the everyday lives of Americans, leaving thousands -- or more -- sick, and killing more than a hundred so far, health professionals and decision makers are still largely in the dark about the scope of the outbreak and how best to contain it. Why? The U.S. testing response has faltered for the last several weeks. 

In contrast to the U.S. response, a robust testing system helped South Korea, which discovered its first cases at the same time as America, blunt the spread of the virus. Recent data show about 125 people per million have been tested in the U.S., compared to more than 5,000 per million in South Korea, according to research published in the New York Times.  

The plan we’re urging Adm. Giroir to follow was initially proposed by former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. David Kessler as a way to rapidly ramp up the U.S testing response. It has four provisions:

  • Expand testing locations by granting universities and private institutions the ability to test, using drive-through testing, and getting Department of Defense medics to staff mobile testing units.

  • Expedite testing by directing UPS, Amazon, FedEx and USPS to coordinate on shipping.

  • Improve data management by getting Google, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft and others to consult on managing the huge flow of new data.

  • Communicate clearly by coordinating with the American Medical Association, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other medical experts to give clear guidance on who needs a test, where to get the test, and what to make of the results.

Beyond Commissioner Kessler's recommendations, U.S. PIRG is calling on Adm. Giroir to increase the amount of test kits sent out into the field, and ensure that each testing location has the necessary tools to process results swiftly. 

Although the federal government is working to expand the number of testing locations and claims to be sending more tests into the field, the testing capacity still lags seriously far behind where it should be. And although labs may have the test kits, health professionals cite shortages in the materials needed to properly conduct the tests -- from necessary chemicals to something as simple as swabs. 

With that in mind, we’ll continue to call on Adm. Giroir and the Trump administration to adopt and follow through on this comprehensive testing plan until everyone who needs a test can get a test.

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