The Coronavirus Testing Conundrum

Donald Trump is absolutely right. Increasing the number of people being tested will make it appear that the Coronavirus is more serious  than HE has led us to believe…and that will adversely affect his chances of being re-elected.

However, Donald Trump is not wrong when he claims that testing is useless.

Testing is useless…and here are the reasons why:

You can be tested on Monday for the Coronavirus.

On Tuesday, you could come into contact with someone who has the virus but doesn’t know it because when they were tested, they didn’t have the virus….yet.

On Thursday (if you are very lucky) you will get back a report indicating that you don’t have the virus, so you go back to work on Monday.

By the end of the week, you will have infected everyone in that office, who will go on to infect others.

There is no solution to this dilemma.

Testing creates a false sense of security, the belief that you either don’t have the Coronavirus or that you have already had it and are now immune to it.

If the tests indicate that you don’t have the virus, that only means that you don’t have the virus today. It tells you nothing about tomorrow.

There’s  also no concrete physical evidence that you are really immune after recovery because there are – or soon will be – several different strains of the virus now in circulation and it isn’t clear how long conferred immunity lasts, nor is it clear if that immunity extends to the various mutations of the virus.

Testing is, therefore, only valuable for the diagnosis of the disease so that you know that you need to go into isolation and sweat out the infection, or seek treatment.

In order to stop this epidemic in its tracks, and get everyone back to work, we would have to TEST EVERYONE EVERY DAY which would be physically, economically and politically untenable.

The Relevant Statistics

People waiting for Covid-19 Tests in Tampa. Florida

The United States is currently testing 2.28 unit per 100,000 per day. (It is unclear whether these units refer to persons tested or tests conducted.) That works out to 150,000 tests per day, and reports from the field indicate that testing sites are running out of supplies and reagents, which suggests that 150,000 tests per day is our effective capacity. With a population of 330 million, we would have to increase our DAILY TESTING CAPACITY by 2,200% in order to test 330 million people every day.

And, yes, everyone has to be tested because we do not know whether people can be re-infected or relapse to the extent that they start shedding virus spoors.

There isn’t enough testing capacity in the United States (or the world, for that matter) to test 330,000 per day EVERY DAY, nor would that matter, unless we were able to get the test results in a matter of minutes, rather than hours, days, or even weeks.

Testing is not the answer and it never has been. Testing was a political palliative to make it look like the various branches of the federal and state governments were actually doing something to combat the spread of the disease.

What Does Work? Not Much!

Checking temperatures at the front door will not work either because not everyone has a body temperature of 98.6.  There are people who have normal body temperatures as low as 97.6  (and sometimes even lower) or as high as 100.6 (and sometimes even higher.)

If you let someone into your establishment with a temperature of 100.6, that person might actually have three degrees of temperature when you use that person’s normal body temperature of 97.6 as the benchmark. This would be a strong indicator of the presence of the virus…or one of a hundred other causes, including an overdose of Niacin (vitamin B5.)

Temperature testing is also unreliable because many Coronavirus patients do not present with elevated body temperatures as their first, second or even third symptom, and because infected people often become spreaders before they manifest any symptoms at all.

It is also possible to subvert temperature testing. A few minutes ago, I was feeling warm (which is no surprise in Florida in July, even with the air conditioner on,) so I took my temperature. It was 98.9.  My normal resting body temperature is 97.8,  so I actually had 1.1 degrees of fever. I then took two acetaminophen tablets. Ten minutes later, my temperature registered at 98.1.

I’ve been screened for body temperature at least a dozen times since this thing started but no one has ever asked me if I had taken acetaminophen, ibuprofen or aspirin within four hours of the screening but people who aren’t feeling terrific because they are in the early stages of the infection might very well have popped a couple of Tylenol tablets, rendering temperature screening pointless.

The  Only Useful Test is a Test that Gives INSTANT Results

Testing is useless because the test results don’t come back fast enough to prevent risky behaviors from taking place. (There are some new tests that promise results in a couple of minutes but that doesn’t mean we can afford 330 million of those tests per day or that the providers can supply that many tests.) Universal, faster, more repetitive testing – testing that the current administration appears unwilling to pay for – would require 330 million tests PER DAY, not 330 million tests once. This including children because the only reason that we believe that children are less susceptible to this virus is that we have shied away from testing children. They may have milder symptoms but that does not mean they can’t be carriers.

What Can and Will Work: Masks and Shut-Downs

Since the Trump administration has signaled that they aren’t going to pay for a universal testing program, the only mechanism that will get this epidemic under control is rigidly enforced universal masking policy that also specifies exactly which masks are actually acceptable…and that means producing hundreds of millions of affordable, effective masks. Given the urgency of the situation, masks must be distributed free of charge to everyone who needs one…and that means everyone.

The other half of the solution is a complete shutdown of all locations where large numbers of people spend extended periods of time in close proximity with each other, including schools, restaurants, bars, night clubs, community centers, sporting events, concerts, POLITICAL CONVENTIONS and anywhere else where stupid people congregate to be stupid together…including in-person voting.

The Responsibility of Government

This, in turn, requires an acknowledgment that, since it is the government’s fault that we are in the mess we are in, then government has to bear the cost of saving businesses that will otherwise be killed off by the shutdown and making sure that employees get paid whether or not they are working for the duration of the crisis.

The Covid-19 virus is not like anything we have ever seen before. It attacks the lungs, the liver, the kidneys, the circulatory system, the heart, the skin and the brain.  It’s symptoms mimic those of a wide variety of other ailments.  Like chickenpox, it may flare up decades later. Like polio, it inflicts extensive lifelong disabilities upon some victims but not others. Because it is a blood-borne illness, it might be communicable through blood products.

There are reassuring announcements of progress toward a protective vaccine and better treatment protocols. That’s a consummation most devoutly to be wished but I don’t put a great deal of faith in anything that comes from the Trump administration….and nor should you.

The bottom line is that we have an insane, politically compromised president who did not even win the popular vote, a politically compromised political party, a broken medical system, a crashing economy, an imploding educational system, and a sharp division between a small group of crazy white people and the rest of modern civilization.



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