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One terrifying chart shows just how far behind the United States is in testing its citizens for coronavirus compared to other countries — which is a marker of how little our federal government has a handle on what is likely turning into a pandemic. Trump, in his rabid desire to downplay COVID-19, has continuously asserted that everything is fine and you can even go to work. But he can’t hide these extremely scary numbers, and what they mean.
Via this graph from Business Insider, which shows the number of COVID-19 tests per million people, just 1,707 Americans had been tested as of March 8 for the novel coronavirus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. See that figure, way at the top of the graph? Represented by just a tiny sliver of red? That’s us. Then look down to the bottom and see how that compares to South Korea, which has tested more than 189,000 people despite having a much smaller population, and which has seen its infection rate start to fall. South Korea announced its first coronavirus infection on the same day the United States did.
Though that tiny, tiny number of administered coronavirus tests does not include those at private and state laboratories, the FDA still only estimates that about 5,861 tests have been conducted here. That means that we really have no idea where the spread of the virus is in the U.S., and what precautions should be undertaken nationwide rather than left up to individual states, cities, and institutions — other countries, including South Korea, but also France, Italy, and Australia, are taking mandatory quarantine steps while we dither. The way infections spread is that cases multiply rapidly, so by the time a severe spike in cases shows itself, it’s already too late; that’s why “surveillance tests” are supposed to be preemptively administered by local officials in potential hot spots before they become runaway epicenters.
So who is to blame? One huge misstep falls to the CDC, which insisted on developing its own coronavirus test and lost precious time. According to ProPublica, in January and February as the virus jumped around the world, “the federal agency shunned the World Health Organization test guidelines used by other countries and set out to create a more complicated test of its own that could identify a range of similar viruses. But when it was sent to labs across the country in the first week of February, it didn’t work as expected. The CDC test correctly identified COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. But in all but a handful of state labs, it falsely flagged the presence of the other viruses in harmless samples.” Now 4 million tests are finally going to be sent out by the end of the week, the CDC says, but will it be too late to significantly contain anything?
In addition to greater mismanagement, however, we can point very specifically to real malevolence and deliberate inaction on the part of Donald Trump to do everything in his power to avoid confronting the scale of the virus in the United States. Not only did his government dismantle the pandemic response unit in 2018 set up by his predecessor but he’s now scrambling to keep any crisis from affecting his reelection chances by simply pretending it doesn’t exist. We’ve only seen him slightly spring into action to attempt to protect the economy from entering a recession — otherwise it’s just been more tweets about how things are perfect. Except they’re definitely not, as you can see, again, from this harrowing chart.