Disconnect between testing availability and need

Did CDC decision to distribute tests evenly make tracking down test kits difficult in hard hit areas? Testing for coronavirus in the United States has been fraught with difficulties since the outset. Initial stumbles by the CDC followed by shortages of testing supplies across the nation resulted in a failure to contain the COVID-19 outbreak in its early stages. A decision by the CDC to send the limited available testing kits roughly evenly throughout the U.S. resulted in a massive disconnect between testing availability and need. In the following weeks, an explosion of infections in hard-hit areas was virtually inevitable without the equipment necessary for containment.

A decision by the CDC to send the limited available testing kits roughly evenly throughout the U.S. resulted in a massive disconnect between testing availability and need.

As Dr. Carl Fichtenbaum, a professor of clinical medicine at the University of Cincinnati’s School of Medicine put it; “Because of the CDC snafu and an initial muted reaction to the outbreak from President Trump’s administration, we’re about a month behind on the diagnostics front.” The resultant game of catch-up cost many American lives and led to the nationwide shut-down and social distancing measures necessary to buy valuable time. CDC Director Robert Redfield has highlighted “It’s really the engagement of the private sector to get these tests into clinical medicine, which is a partnership between the private sector and CDC.” Public agencies simply do not have the means available to the private sector for mass production and distribution of testing supplies.

CDC Director Robert Redfield has highlighted “It’s really the engagement of the private sector to get these tests into clinical medicine, which is a partnership between the private sector and CDC.”

Massive spikes in infection

So what now? After the eventual successes in mitigating the further spread of novel coronavirus, the pulling back of critical preventative measures resulted in massive spikes in infection. While now better equipped, the U.S. healthcare system is once again reaching and breaching capacity, with ICU beds filling up in the hardest-hit states. Private suppliers and academic hospitals have been able to produce their own tests, and at-home kits are becoming available, but it’s difficult to say whether testing centers will be able to meet the levels necessary for containment without a drastic reconsideration of U.S. epidemiological efforts.

Private suppliers and academic hospitals have been able to produce their own tests, and at-home kits are becoming available…

Reliable testing is essential to inform decisions regarding the allocation of resources, treatment of patients, and policymaking. Questions of relaxing strategies such as social distancing measures, or where resources such as ventilators are in greatest need cannot be answered without reliable test data. Answers to those questions are indispensable for public health and economic recovery.

HHS redirects all incoming statistics directly to the agency

In an attempt to streamline reporting of COVID-19 data, the HHS has redirected all incoming statistics directly to the agency, rather than through its subsidiary the CDC. On one hand, the move promises to relieve some of the burden healthcare providers are facing on the frontlines, reducing somewhat the shifting requests hospitals receive from a host of interested parties. It even permits states to handle the submission of relevant data. There are those with concerns, however, regarding both the future transparency of the collected information and the decision of removing those duties from the experts at the CDC. Time will tell if this was the best move.

There are those with concerns, however, regarding both the future transparency of the collected information and the decision of removing those duties from the experts at the CDC.

Testing availability has been met with a surge of demand

Despite warnings to the contrary, the US has moved largely for a return to normalcy in spite of the current outbreak. According to the testing information provided by the HHS, over $10 billion has been allocated to states, territories, and local jurisdictions in order to expand access to testing.

Even so, actual testing availability has been met with a surge of demand as the retreating epidemic makes a harrowing return. Testing kits will play a pivotal role in the coming weeks as healthcare providers struggle once more to stem the tide of infections despite a lack of adequate equipment. While for now, the government response does seem sufficient to provide at least a steady stream of testing supplies, the sheer number of infected individuals has brought about delays in processing the results of those tests.