The U.S. government’s response to the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak has been “much, much worse than almost any other country that’s been affected,” Ashish Jha, who runs the Harvard Global Health Institute, told NPR on Thursday. “I still don’t understand why we don’t have extensive testing. Vietnam! Vietnam has tested more people than America has.” Without testing, he added, “you have no idea how extensive the infection is,” and “we have to shut schools, events, and everything down, because that’s the only tool available to us until we get testing back up. It’s been stunning to me how bad the federal response has been.”
Still, testing in the US lags far behind that in other countries, due to a combination of technical and policy issues, as well as political pressure.
There are a lot of reasons why the U.S. lags other countries in testing for the new coronavirus – The Trump administration’s “chaotic” response to COVID-19 is the result of an inability to marshal government resources effectively, and the responsibility lies with the president himself, according to health policy analyst and journalist Laurie Garrett.
Even when tests are available, there’s the question of how and where people will take them. Because COVID-19 is proving highly contagious, doctors and hospitals are reluctant to encourage people with symptoms to come into offices to provide samples. Public health officials and lab companies are exploring new ways of running these tests, including at drive-through facilities, or separate tents that some hospitals are setting up outside of their emergency rooms, to minimize contact that potentially positive people would have with other patients.
In January, Azar “did push past resistance from the president’s political aides to warn the president the new coronavirus could be a major problem,” Diamond said, but he “has not always given the president the worst-case scenario of what could happen. My understanding is [Trump] did not push to do aggressive additional testing in recent weeks, and that’s partly because more testing might have led to more cases being discovered of coronavirus outbreak, and the president had made clear — the lower the numbers on coronavirus, the better for the president, the better for his potential re-election fall 2020.