DANIEL VAUGHAN: We’re flying blind on COVID-19, and government bureaucrats are to blame

Travel bans buy time, but they’re not solutions by themselves.

President Donald Trump’s Oval Office address was necessary for placing COVID-19, the new coronavirus, at the forefront of everyone’s minds. The measures he proposed are a good step in the right direction, but until the government bureaucracy and red tape are removed from the equation, our response to this virus is mired in quicksand, always a step or two behind.

The United States has a problem. We know COVID-19 is spreading, we’ve known this has been happening for some time, but we don’t know the scope of the problem.

Part of the reason we’re having to push harsher social distancing plans out to the public, canceling events like the NBA, MLS, and more, is because we don’t know how many people are infected. So far, we’ve used travel bans and other such policies to slow the spread, but we’ve squandered that time by not rapidly expanding our ability to test for COVID-19.

The chief culprits in this are the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), both executive branch agencies. In January — two months ago — researchers in Seattle, Washington began noticing symptoms in patients who tested negative for flu, pneumonia, and other common ailments. The researchers had the bright idea to check these patients for COVID-19 — well before it was a problem on most people’s radar.

The researchers sought help from the government, and not only did they did not get it — the CDC and FDA tried to block any testing. When the researchers pushed on and tested these patients anyway, at the end of February, “They quickly had a positive test from a local teenager with no recent travel history. The coronavirus had already established itself on American soil without anybody realizing it.”

Our government agencies were telling us there were no cases on U.S. soil while blocking researchers who had patients testing positive. Government bureaucrats wanted the process run through their forms and labs, while innocent people were already getting infected. It’s the height of irresponsibility.

So while official government policy delayed people from infected regions of the world traveling to the United States, we squandered that time. Meanwhile, the CDC has botched its own processes, with quality control issues and contaminated testing. And because everyone is scrambling now, we’re dealing with three problems on the testing front.

First, we’re scrambling to get enough tests out the door. That problem is finally starting to fade as we’re getting reports of millions of tests getting shipped — the problem is that these are late. Instead of finding new cases of COVID-19, we’re now just trying to measure the scope of it.

Second, even if we can get tests out to people, those tests are bottlenecked by our capacity to get results based on those tests. Up until recently, we were relying on the woefully ill-equipped CDC labs to get results on these tests, which could take days. We’ve only recently seen testing go north of 1,000 specimens a day, and we need that to go much higher to make a dent in the backlogs we’re going to have soon.

Third, and finally, our capacity to get results on testing is getting bottlenecked by resources used to run tests on COVID-19. Politico reports:

“Increased demand for testing has the potential to exhaust supplies needed to perform the test itself,” said Robin Patel, president of the American Society for Microbiology. That would limit the testing capacity of public health, hospital and commercial labs alike, she added.

In addition, China is also threatening our supply chain for drugs to treat COVID-19. If you ever wanted to know what scum the Communist Chinese Party is — see that they’re more concerned about appearances, hiding the fact that they’re responsible for this virus, and how they can hurt the United States. As soon as we get clear of this problem in the United States, China must pay for their wrongdoing.

But for now, we have the immediate problems of our federal government’s incompetence in dealing with COVID-19 and our lack of knowledge in how large the scope of our problem reaches. We know that people with no recent travel history have been becoming infected with the virus, in the United States, since January. Thanks to our federal agencies, we’re only learning about this just now.

It’s hard to disagree with Reason Magazine when they observe, “Due to red tape, the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. will be worse than it should have been.”

It’s time to remove that red tape and unleash the full potential of the United States healthcare system against this virus. We’ve been hamstrung by bureaucrats for months. President Trump needs to cut all the red tape surrounding this virus, fast track vaccines and treatment, and then when this is over: start firing the incompetent government bureaucrats who wasted valuable time.

Then, we deal with China.