Apr 18, 2020 - Health

It all comes back to testing

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan announced on Friday that the city will start making diagnostic tests available to all employees of “essential” businesses, and to city employees performing essential services.

Why it matters: It’s the first program of its kind, and a model for other cities to follow. And it’s a reminder that testing remains the limiting factor in every facet of our response to the coronavirus.

You may be tired of hearing about testing. You may think it has become an almost myopic focus in a multifaceted crisis. But there is simply no way to work around it, or to put that problem to the side and focus on something else. All roads lead back to testing.

Between the lines: Detroit’s plan to test people who aren’t experiencing symptoms, even if it's just a small group, is critical.

  • Many parts of the country, though, simply don’t have the capacity to test anyone who isn't feeling sick. That will never be good enough.
  • Although more rapid tests are becoming available, turnaround times of up to a week increase the risk that people will spread the virus without knowing it.
  • If you test someone too soon after they’ve contracted COVID-19, they won’t have enough of the virus in their system, resulting in a false negative — which means some infected workers may slip through the cracks even with widespread testing.

Our thought bubble: Every incremental step that brings more people out into the world creates some level of additional risk. We don’t have a vaccine and we can’t stay inside forever, so all we can do is try to find a level of risk that’s manageable.

  • The only way to manage that risk is to stay on top of the virus’ spread, and the only way to do that is with testing. And so the limitations in testing will always, necessarily, restrict everything else we try to do.

Go deeper

CDC: Coronavirus antibodies could give "short-term immunity," but more data is needed

CDC director Robert Redfield briefs reporters on April 8. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Coronavirus antibody tests are still relatively unreliable, and it's unclear if people who get the virus are immune to getting it again, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cautioned on Tuesday.

What they're saying: The agency explicitly warned against using antibody tests to determine whether someone should return to work or to group people within schools or prisons.

U.S. coronavirus updates

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios. This graphic includes "probable deaths" that New York City began reporting on April 14.

About 40.7 million Americans have filed for unemployment since the coronavirus pandemic began, including 2.1 million more claims filed from last week.

Why it matters: Even as states reopen their economies, Americans are still seeking relief. Revised data out Thursday also showed U.S. economy shrunk by an annualized 5% in the first quarter — worse than the initially estimate of 4.8%.

Local music venues get rocked by coronavirus

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Live music was an early casualty of the coronavirus pandemic, and independent venues across the country are especially at risk as the crisis drags on.

Why it matters: These venues are accessible cultural spaces and key economic drivers, and no one in the industry, from bands to bookers to bartenders, knows when things will return to normal.