If the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. gets really bad — if it stretches on longer than we anticipated, if huge numbers of people get sick, if the disruptions to daily life become even more severe — early flaws in the testing process will bear a lot of the blame, Axios' Sam Baker writes.
The big picture: You probably know that there were some early problems with testing, and that they're getting better — which they are.
- But those early failures will help define the entire scope of this pandemic, and there's not much we can do now to reverse the damage.
Why it matters: Because we haven't been doing enough testing, we don't actually know how many people in the U.S. have the coronavirus. We know the official count is too low, and that the number of confirmed cases is likely to explode in the coming weeks as testing improves.
- But that's not the only problem. The lack of testing hasn't just left us in the dark about how bad the situation is; it has also made that situation worse.
Widespread, accurate testing has been a key component of other countries' success in bringing their outbreaks under control.
- When we can quickly and accurately diagnose one patient, we can immediately pinpoint who that person is most likely to have infected, then quarantine those people and test the ones who start to show symptoms, and repeat that process on down the line.
- We can spot clusters of new cases, so that the public health system can react quickly and focus its resources.
But the U.S. has not been able to do those things on the scale we'd need. And so, experts say, the virus has probably been spreading undetected for weeks.