News & Politics

Is There or Is There Not a Shortage of Test Kits for the Coronavirus?

Vice President Mike Pence speaks during a Florida Coronavirus Response Meeting, at the West Palm Beach International Airport, Friday, Feb. 28, 2020, in West Palm Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Terry Renna)

Is there or is there not a shortage of kits to test for the coronavirus? That the question even has to be asked does not reflect well on the administration’s response to the crisis.

And yet, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told ABC News on Friday there was no shortage, contradicting the White House and health professionals across the country.

The Hill:

“There is no testing kit shortage, nor has there ever been,” Azar said on ABC News Friday. “We will have by the end of this weekend over 1.2 million tests around America in public health labs as well as in private and commercial labs, and that is scaling up by the millions, ramping up rapidly.”

Vice President Mike Pence told the media on Thursday that the U.S. would come up short of a million test kits distributed by the end of the week.

Business Insider:

Vice President Mike Pence, who is leading the federal government’s coronavirus response, made the acknowledgment Thursday while visiting a factory in Minnesota, the BBC reported.

“We don’t have enough tests today to meet what we anticipate will be the demand going forward,” he said.

The BBC said that later, speaking in Washington, Pence added: “We still have a ways to go to ensure that tests are available.”

The BBC said Pence instead moved the goal to next week, when he predicted kits for 1.2 million people would be available.

Azar is correct when he says that the manufacture of the test kits is “ramping up rapidly.” Pence says that 4 million kits will be shipped by the end of next week.

Americans are going to need them.

The Los Angeles Times reports “chaos” at hospitals as many more people want to be tested than there are kits available.

Federal officials said nearly 1 million tests were expected to be available by the end of this week. But in California, one of the country’s hardest-hit regions with 60 cases, the total testing capacity is limited to only 7,400 through the weekend, according to the California Department of Public Health.

The inability to test widely and swiftly for the novel coronavirus has impeded the country’s ability to beat back the spread of the virus, experts say. Without testing, public health officials don’t know where the virus is spreading and where to target efforts to contain it. Twelve Americans have been killed so far by the disease.

Earth to Secretary Azar: There is a severe shortage of test kits.

It would be well to remember that human beings are managing this crisis to the best of their ability. No one is deliberately trying to get people sick or killed. Most of the government’s response to the crisis was determined years ago, as local, state, and federal health officials follow well-established and rehearsed protocols to deal with an outbreak of this kind.

The problem has been that this entire complex and confusing system is sometimes beyond the abilities of people to manage. Situations that call for creative or outside-the-box solutions are not always managed well. The immensity of the system and the need for instantaneous results were not foreseen or probably foreseeable.

Try making 4 million of anything in a couple of weeks and you begin to sense the enormity of the problem. Imagine when a vaccine becomes available. Six billion people are going to want that vaccine, need that vaccine. Who gets it first? Who decides where it goes?

The administration is scaling up its response as fast as possible. Politically, it’s not fast enough. It would never be fast enough. Nor would it ever be competent enough, or anything that would warrant praise. Politics should take a break as the nation deals with the immediate problem of keeping the spread of the coronavirus in check.

But it won’t. And that fact is likely to get people killed, not the way officials have responded to the crisis.