And by asked, Congress is going to have to step in and possibly use its subpoena power. Likewise, journalists, and not the political horse race shitheads, but the professional science reporters, will have to ask hard questions.
While the CDC and other public health agencies are working very hard to combat COVID-19, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that our public health infrastructure is fighting with one hand behind its back. Other groups have tried to fill the gap, but you can’t MacGyver your way out of a pandemic. Our inability to test might have very well cost us the opportunity to contain COVID-19, or at least keep it far more manageable. This is damaging the trust in our public health system, which is critical in situations like this. And without any accountability, this will only get worse–the people who made bad decisions need to held accountable, and that includes cabinet members and the president. So, here are some questions that should be asked:
- Why weren’t available tests from other countries used? The U.S. lost valuable time approving–or trying to approve–a new test. How was this decision reached and who was involved? To the House and Senate Democrats’ credit, they’ve asked that question, but HHS Secretary Azar has defied Congress and not answered.
- At various dates, such as January 15, January 31, and Feb 15, what were the expectations in terms of the numbers of tests for COVID-19 that would need to be performed? In other words, how many actual cases did the administration assume would exist at those time points? Who was involved in those assumptions?
- Regarding the development of COVID-19 tests, why was the FDA not brought into the process until February, especially since the CDC is not equipped to scale up production of testing kits, while FDA in conjunction with private groups and companies, is?
- Why didn’t the FDA show more flexibility in emergency use authorization for testing kits and strategies until late February? Who was involved in those decisions?
- How were supplies, such as N95 masks, from the Strategic National Stockpile allocated, and what was the decision process?
- Why are cases not being tabulated by the CDC, especially as testing to date is (almost exclusively) being done by or in conjunction with, state laboratories? CDC routinely collects similar information for other diseases, so why has this not been done here? Were overly optimistic expectations affecting the build out of this surveillance infrastructure? Starting in January, what was the plan (or plans) to make these data public? Or was the plan to keep the public, including most medical personnel, in the dark?
- Are state and local laboratories aware of the new, less stringent testing standards? (e.g., the D.C. Department of Public Health doesn’t seem to be, based on a press conference Saturday evening).
Again, the point isn’t to play gotcha, but to have accountability and restore trust in our public health system. To do that, questions need to be asked and answered, and if you’re in a position to ask these questions but lack the expertise to do so, find someone who is.