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What went wrong with U.S. COVID-19 testing: WaPo Fact Checker lays it out

The Washington Post “Fact Checker” published Monday a devastating review of the Trump Administration handling of the COVID crisis in the early weeks, focused specifically on the actions taken (and not taken) regarding the development and deployment of a reliable test for the virus.

A widely available reliable test would have been enormously helpful in the early days (and still) in containing the spread of the virus.

The administration messed up eight ways from Sunday in developing a reliable test and getting the many benefits that would have provided in reducing the size of the crisis in which, as you know, the United States now has the most confirmed cases in the world.

The piece reviews in passing, as I have also done previously, some of the many untrue things the POTUS himself said about the virus and the efforts to downplay its seriousness and overrate the steps he was taking to contain it.

But that is not the focus of this Fact Check. This is not about what Trump said, except to the extent that he made (mostly false) statements about the development and distribution of a reliable test for the virus.

It is, nonetheless, a portrait of the administration’s missteps and falsehoods regarding the reliability and availability of testing.

The full Post piece, “11 to 100,000: What went wrong with coronavirus testing in the U.S.,” is here.

Comments (35)

  1. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 03/30/2020 - 03:40 pm.

    Mr. Trump seems more concerned with the TV ratings for the press briefings being held each day. I’ve read that the ratings for Richard Nixon’s resignation speech were pretty high, too. When I’ve watched, the notion that he might be held responsible for what happens in the entire country, not just those states whose Governors flatter him, seems foreign to the President.

    The very idea that one must flatter the President in order to get help from the national government in dealing with a national health disaster seems… um… Kafka-esque. Lots of news stories of individuals, local and state government officials and lower-level federal employees doing their best to make up for the bumbling response from the White House, but oddly enough, I’m not seeing much about what Ivanka, Don Jr., or Jared are contributing to help the efforts of their fellow-Americans. Maybe they’re working diligently behind the scenes, but if so, it’s a PR opportunity that’s being missed, and that’s a rarity in this administration.

  2. Submitted by Mike Chrun on 03/30/2020 - 05:42 pm.

    Waiting for the rebuttals, but it’s fun to give a preview:
    1. It’s the Washington Post so obviously it’s fake news. They couldn’t impeach the great leader so now they are using this virus.
    2. He stopped travel from China so obviously he did all he could but doesn’t get any credit for it.
    3. It would be much worse if he hadn’t been on top of things and had let that cruise ship dock.
    4. Somehow Obama’s fault.

    The problem the cultists are having are the quotes from the great leader. They are out there on tape and video and people aren’t going to forget them. Sad to say, Trump isn’t done adding to the evidence of his incompetence, dishonesty, and pettiness. Practically every day he illustrates how unfit he is to be President: “Are the masks going out the back door?” “That young woman governor…” “They’ve got to be nice to us.” Those pews full at Easter. And just today governors saying that Trump said he hadn’t heard about tests for weeks. Just unbelievable.

  3. Submitted by Solly Johnson on 03/30/2020 - 07:13 pm.

    Meanwhile, Joe Biden proclaims again recently that Medicare for All is not the solution using his same stale argument that many workers prefer their employer based programs. Tell that to millions of workers who are now unemployed in just the past few weeks and have no medical insurance, while most people in the rest of the industrialized world who have been confined to homes have no insurance worries and portions of their incomes guaranteed.
    Gareth Porter, an award winning investigative journalist, recently wrote that the Strategic National Stockpile for medical supplies in a national emergency was depleted under both the Obama and Trump administrations leading the USA to be woefully unprepared for this pandemic, even though many leading medical experts predicted the strong possibility of one such as we are experiencing now.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 03/31/2020 - 11:00 am.

      The question is not whether a national health care system would cover more people at a lower cost, or that most people would favor it once it was in place (the ACA, a small step in that direction, is popular).
      It’s whether the necessary legislation has any chance of getting through both houses of congress.

    • Submitted by Harris Goldstein on 03/31/2020 - 12:22 pm.

      Your concerns are valid and could be addressed, just as easily, with a public option.

      • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 03/31/2020 - 09:45 pm.

        There are some economic problems with the ‘public option’.
        If it’s cost is lower, it will siphon off healthy patients, driving up the cost for private insurance policies which private the coverage that older sicker people (like the ones who are most likely to contract Covid-19) need.
        It’s the worst of both worlds.
        If you’re going to do it, do it right and go to national health coverage. It works for the rest of the developed world.

    • Submitted by LK WOODRUFF on 03/31/2020 - 01:06 pm.

      And yet the red states now, with a serious lack of healthcare for all and sufficient hospitals, are begging for federal exemptions so they can now tap into federal govn Medicaid and Medicare…..

  4. Submitted by Tom Anderson on 03/30/2020 - 10:05 pm.

    CDC and FDA seem to be the main components of the testing failure. Allowing private companies in earlier might have helped. Second guessing and hindsight prove to be in plentiful supply and, once everything has settled down will be important in ensuring that the same thing doesn’t happen the next time we have a once in a lifetime pandemic.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 03/31/2020 - 11:01 am.

      The best solution is going back to professional (rather than political) leadership, and full staffing.
      It’s no surprise that gutted systems don’t work well.

    • Submitted by Brian Simon on 03/31/2020 - 11:47 am.

      “Allowing private companies in earlier might have helped.”

      Might have. Or might not have.

      It’s less about what kind of organization should have been doing the research than the point that some organization should have been doing the research.

      Due to the nature of capitalism, there’s little market incentive for private enterprise to invest in research that benefts the public good. Therefore public entities are the more likely institutions from which we should expect such research. Or restructure – regulate – markets in such a way to incent private enterprise to pursue investment in the public good.

      • Submitted by LK WOODRUFF on 03/31/2020 - 01:12 pm.

        And the Trump admin cut funding and programs and policies that all would have given prompt warnings and gotten both public and private entities into high gear weeks, if not months, earlier so the USA could have contained this new emerging novel virus in the earliest days, instead of leading in cases now. So all who prefer to give this admin the benefit need to start assessing the situation realistically. Many more people are I’ll and dying due to sheer hubris. This is unconscionable.

        • Submitted by Mark Kulda on 03/31/2020 - 02:42 pm.

          China’s early lying about the virus’ transmittability and their efforts to contain it didn’t give the US much of a chance to control anything. By the time the US knew enough about it, many thousands of people were allowed to fly here and spread the infection without anybody knowing about it. At that point, no matter what our reaction, we were fairly powerless to stop it.

          • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 03/31/2020 - 03:43 pm.

            The spooks the US spy agencies had on the ground in China knew how bad it was.

            But then, those are just Deep State actors, bent on destroying Don Trump, so why listen to them. Besides, Don T told us Xi was doing a great job.

          • Submitted by LK WOODRUFF on 04/01/2020 - 09:17 am.

            It started in Nov 2019. Many, including the USA givn knew about it in early Jan. I dud, too, cuz I read a lot. But Trump preferred to ignore it. Then he dud what he always does: he blamed the Chinese and then he distracted by calling it a Democratic hoax. FOXm his state tv and huge propaganda machine for planned purposeful propaganda for years now got the word out fast and stressed it 24/7. And this is how things go now. Trump remember once saud: who knew healthcare cb so complicated? Well many who’ve worked in healthcare, and even politics, did! But he’s had such a limited focus in his life (ME ME ME) and only shows interest in ways to profit for himself. So instead of rallying the troops he blamed everyone and their dog. He’d already stopped funding and positions and programs and policies that were in place to sound the alarms and get things rolling. Why? Because he’s vindictive and petty and Obama put much of it in place and Trump’s #1 goal all along has been to CUT EVERYTHING Obama did! Despite the cost & harm to others! (Us, or air & water & public lands and wildlife.) And why does he hate Obama? Many obvious reasons: good president, skin color and more. But mostly cuz at a White House Correspondent’s dinner Obama riffed on Trump, which little Donny hated, AND then the next day announced the capture of the former leader of Iraq. Donald Trump on some level knows he comes up wat short. He knows he’s not popular. He knows he lacks the knowledge and skills to lead. His own parents sent a strong message when they shipped him off to military school at age 8. Step back everyone and really take in his behaviours & patterns. This is a deeply flawed and damaged individual with zero self control whose only enjoyment in life is spending others’ $$$. His father’s $438M, our national debt is now in the TRILLION$!!! He used to look into cameras and say: I LOVE DEBT. He owes hundreds of millions (Deutsche Bank $350M, China $950M. Who knows what he’s got going with Russia and the Saudis, but it’s obvious they OWN him. I c write reams but here is the bottom line: he lives to be cruel and destructive. He is not honest, nor honorable nor admirable. This Nov please do your research and homework and study the candidates fully. Voting is a right, but w that right comes serious duty. Be much more careful about who you cast your vote for this time. And everyone push to rein in the powers if the presidency because over recent years far too much power and control has been grabbed. No one person should EVER have that much!!! We have other branches of govn for oversight and balance and fairness.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 04/01/2020 - 11:38 am.

      Tom, private companies are actually the problem. In a crises like this “markets” can actually be counterproductive. Trump did in fact waste two months waiting for the private sector to step up and respond to this crises rather than invoke federal authority and develop a nationwide coordinated response. This is exactly why our testing regime has been such a failure compared to other developed countries, and it’s why our mortality rates will be so much higher than they should be. The reason we’re facing so many critical shortages right now flows directly out of the fact that market incentives simply do not anticipate crises, and they do not produce necessary supplies and equipment pro-actively.

      • Submitted by Tom Anderson on 04/01/2020 - 09:17 pm.

        “private companies are actually the problem”

        Like the ones creating the five minute test, or all the tests, or all the equipment, that, of course, must be free.

  5. Submitted by BK Anderson on 03/31/2020 - 08:50 am.

    It’s nice that the atrocities are being well documented, but demonstrating the Trump regime’s incompetence and craven obeisance to Dear Leader and his abject ignorance is like shooting fish in a barrel. Trump and his sycophantic courtiers couldn’t pass Pandemic 101.

    The first question is to what degree such irrefutable evidence of mendacity and incompetence can even get put before the eyes of the cultists. The next is to whether even such damning information as this can have any effect on the minds of the 42%. (If not the 46% who voted for the idiot!) Based on three years experience, Trump apparently cannot have a Katrina moment as Bush Jr had. The country has “advanced” beyond such reckonings.

    There are several reasons for this, including an ever greater degree of “conservative” brainwashing and almost total immersion in the right-wing bubble of unreality, including many who continue to describe themselves as “independents”. But the most important one is that this unqualified fool and know-nothing charlatan is not just a flailing and divisive president, he has (incredibly) become the symbol of white (male) nationalism, and THAT cannot fail. Because (by definition) that is who Made America Great!

  6. Submitted by William Hunter Duncan on 03/31/2020 - 10:31 am.

    Fascinating. A private company provided the CDC with the faulty reagent in the CDC test, but NO ONE will name the contractor. It is not even discussed in this WaPo article. The failure of the actual test is given short shrift, compared to making the Trump admin look bad generally.

    Indeed, the Trump administration pretended capitalism is stronger than a pandemic virus. Hubris. Standard for this admin. But then here we are, it is nearly April, and that vast Health Care Industry that has been 20% of our economy, mostly run by racketeers engaged in ever more creative ways to price gouge, is still unable to test widely.

    So even if you finally manage to get rid of Trump, we still have a rotten health care system full to the brim with corruption. Getting rid of Trump won’t change that.

    • Submitted by BK Anderson on 03/31/2020 - 11:33 am.

      Getting rid of Trump is a necessary, but not sufficient, step.

      In your critiques of the (largely) for-profit American health care system, I’d think you’d note that for all its splendid cost, it apparently didn’t have more than 10 days of the most basic personal protective equipment on hand–anywhere in the US! There is no industry that the MBA bean counters failed to overwhelm.

      • Submitted by Tom Anderson on 03/31/2020 - 08:36 pm.

        Could be bean counters, it could also be the JIT (just in time) model that most businesses use. Nobody stockpiles inventory because it costs money to store it. Production is based on providing incremental amounts regularly according to need. Rapidly increasing need and JIT don’t work well together.

        • Submitted by BK Anderson on 04/01/2020 - 08:04 am.

          I was (not very clearly) implying that the MBAs turned JIT into a religion, but thanks.

          Another way of saying this is that health care services and JIT don’t work well together. Or at the bare minimum the federal government then had to become health care stockpiler of last resort in order to allow the heath care CEOs to maximize profits to the fullest degree!

          • Submitted by Tom Anderson on 04/01/2020 - 09:21 pm.

            We’ll see what happens to all the extra ventilators, respirators, hospital beds, etc. when this pandemic has ended. I doubt that many hospitals and clinics will choose to warehouse all of the items until the next pandemic.

            • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 04/02/2020 - 02:18 pm.

              What makes you think there will be “extras?”

              • Submitted by Tom Anderson on 04/03/2020 - 05:57 pm.

                Unused? It is unlikely that the need for hospital beds, ventilators, and other equipment will continue at peak levels for the rest of time. They will need to be stored someplace.

    • Submitted by LK WOODRUFF on 03/31/2020 - 01:15 pm.

      No but finally putting a NOT FOR PROFIT healthcare system for all Americans into place will.

    • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 03/31/2020 - 01:26 pm.

      Perhaps, just perhaps, you may want to give some consideration, who (party/president) will lean harder for single payer, vs who was 100% against it, or for that matter which president/party leaned/tried for a cleaner environment vs party/president is hell bent on increasing pollution. This same-ism rings pretty shallow.

    • Submitted by Edward Blaise on 04/01/2020 - 09:13 am.

      “vast Health Care Industry that has been 20% of our economy, mostly run by racketeers engaged in ever more creative ways to price gouge, is still unable to test widely.”

      Just curious, as a MFA supporter, do you want it to be modeled after Medicare where a base level of coverage is provided to all and then, on an optional basis, one can engage with a “racketeer” for enhanced benefits that are paid for by the consumer?

      I am sympathetic to the union member who over a long career consistently gave up wage increases in lieu of benefit enhancement only to lose all of that in a one size fits all MFA plan.

      And the thousands of United Healthcare “racketeers” in MN need jobs too.

      Or is that more “compromise” than you can withstand?

      • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 04/01/2020 - 11:09 am.

        I know a lot of union business managers who would love to get health insurance off pf the bargaining table.

        • Submitted by Edward Blaise on 04/01/2020 - 12:47 pm.

          I agree; but likely not at the cost of giving up the hard won concessions from years of bargaining.

          Using the approach/tools of Medicare for “Medicare for All” seems a reasonable proposition.

    • Submitted by William Hunter Duncan on 04/02/2020 - 10:06 am.

      I don’t pretend to know much about health care other than what I can do to maintain my own health, and that $500/mnth with a $6000-8000 deductible is not insurance, but Health Care racketeers bleeding me until I am dead.

  7. Submitted by Edward Blaise on 03/31/2020 - 02:13 pm.

    It seems little coverage has been given to the fact that we did have a CDC epidemiologist embedded in China’s counterpart to the CDC. The position was eliminated last Summer as part of the Trump: “Trade wars are easy to win” strategy:

    “The American disease expert, a medical epidemiologist embedded in China’s disease control agency, left her post in July, according to four sources with knowledge of the issue. The first cases of the new coronavirus may have emerged as early as November, and as cases exploded, the Trump administration in February chastised China for censoring information about the outbreak and keeping U.S. experts from entering the country to help.

    “It was heartbreaking to watch,” said Bao-Ping Zhu, a Chinese American who served in that role, which was funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 2007 and 2011. “If someone had been there, public health officials and governments across the world could have moved much faster.”

    Zhu and the other sources said the American expert, Dr. Linda Quick, was a trainer of Chinese field epidemiologists who were deployed to the epicenter of outbreaks to help track, investigate and contain diseases.

    As an American CDC employee, they said, Quick was in an ideal position to be the eyes and ears on the ground for the United States and other countries on the coronavirus outbreak, and might have alerted them to the growing threat weeks earlier.

    No other foreign disease experts were embedded to lead the program after Quick left in July, according to the sources. Zhu said an embedded expert can often get word of outbreaks early, after forming close relationships with Chinese counterparts.

    Zhu and the other sources said Quick could have provided real-time information to U.S. and other officials around the world during the first weeks of the outbreak, when they said the Chinese government tamped down on the release of information and provided erroneous assessments.

    Quick left amid a bitter U.S. trade dispute with China when she learned her federally funded post, officially known as resident adviser to the U.S. Field Epidemiology Training Program in China, would be discontinued as of September, the sources said. The U.S. CDC said it first learned of a “cluster of 27 cases of pneumonia” of unexplained origin in Wuhan, China, on Dec. 31.”

    Couple this with the elimination of NSC Pandemic unit and we lost valuable insight that could have given us better warning and better reactions.

    https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-china-cdc-exclusiv/exclusive-u-s-axed-cdc-expert-job-in-china-months-before-virus-outbreak-idUSKBN21910S

  8. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 04/01/2020 - 11:52 am.

    I’ll say it one more time, just because it’s a relevant observation.

    Trump has had 3+ years to remake the government in his own image. Unfortunately neither Trump nor the people he’s assembled understand the difference between managing a “portfolio” and running a government. Consequently the government that been re-organized around Trump’s image is one that’s more prone to bankruptcy, failure, and chaos rather than crises response.

    There is no continuity, no knowledge base, and no experience left in Trump’s White House. The key agencies tasked with detecting and responding to pandemics like this are all trying to function under 3rd or even 5th appointee’s and interim heads. Remember a couple weeks ago when Kushner ended up in “charge” of ramping up the testing regime? Have “fixed” that he moved on work the respirator problem… God help us.

    Thousands of experienced and qualified government workers have either been forced out or resigned do to political pressures and hostile work environments. The talented ones that are left like Fauci, are grain of grass trying to withstand hurricane force winds and may be forced out at any moment. Everyone else has been reduced to mandatory public displays of Trump admiration and tribute. Brix is becoming the new queen of alternative facts.

    This is being recorded, and it’s not going to end well for the nation or for Trump. Our experiment with voting stupidly and electing idiots and Fascists was never going to end well, but you sometimes people just don’t listen.

  9. Submitted by Edward Blaise on 04/01/2020 - 12:50 pm.

    It’s a good thing for Trump that a significant number of folks can’t interpret a 2 axis chart:

    https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/covid-confirmed-cases-since-100th-case?yScale=linear&country=CHN+CAN+DOM+MEX+USA+CRI+PAN+CUB+HND+PRI

  10. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 04/02/2020 - 09:42 am.

    There is another point, fearless leader is doing nothing to reject (haven’t heard a word suggesting his BS base stop getting its daily dose of more BS from the Right wing & religious conspiracy theories) in fact, it appears he is promoting their BS, and folks wonder why there are mixed messages! .One would think that at these times perhaps, just perhaps, the American public might come before his narcissism, nope, never give an inch. Example: Anything about Dr. Fauci’s death threats, zero, but calling him deep state, oh yeah!

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