Why the U.S. came up short on coronavirus testing

Democrats and the mainstream media have made testing the center piece of their multi-faceted critique of President Trump’s response to the Wuhan coronavirus. And there’s no denying that the U.S. was slow off the mark when it came to testing for that virus.

To what degree, though, is Trump to blame? John Sexton at Hot Air takes up this question. He finds that the failure to ramp up testing was due to two main bureaucratic failures of the kind that cause conservatives to be highly critical of big government.

Trump headed up our big government, of course. But Sexton concludes, and I agree, that it’s fair to place blame on Trump only in “the buck stops here” sense. “Blaming [Trump] directly for a series of missteps by highly trained professionals seems to overlook the real problem: Bureaucracies don’t respond well, or quickly, to new challenges.”

The first bureaucratic failure identified by Sexton was the CDC’s development of defective tests:

In the fourth week of January, the CDC shipped out the kits to more than two dozen public health labs scattered across the country, from Albany, N.Y., to Richmond, Calif. The labs were instructed by the CDC to demonstrate that the test would work before analyzing samples from patients.

But when those facilities began using the kits to analyze a negative control sample — highly purified water supplied by each lab and free of any genetic material — the tests wrongly signaled the presence of the coronavirus.

It seems that these tests failed due to the inclusion of an element that would have allowed users to identify people who had SARS or similar coronaviruses. This element was surplus to requirements for purposes of Wuhan coronavirus testing, but was included anyway. Apparently, without its inclusion the test would not have been defective.

It took nearly a month to determine, based on information provided by the CDC, whether the kits were failing because of a design problem or a manufacturing issue. Things weren’t sorted out until late February.

The second problem has been reported fairly widely. Competent outside labs were also working on tests. But once the U.S. declared a public health emergency in late January, the FDA had to approve such tests. Thus, any lab that wanted to create its own test had to deal with reams of FDA paperwork to secure an “emergency use authorization,” something many hospital labs didn’t know how to get.

This is what conservatives call “red tape.” Liberals specialize in creating it.

In sum, says Sexton:

[T]he FDA not only didn’t sort out the mess at the CDC quickly, it also warned everyone else to stay on the sidelines unless they’d gone through a laborious approval process. The outcome of all of this is that we had very little testing happening in February.

Democrats and the mainstream media may succeed in laying this mess at President Trump’s feet, but their narrative is largely false. The true story, one conservatives have been telling forever, revolves around fumbling bureaucrats and excessive red tape.