President Donald Trump is eager to open up the US economy as soon as possible. That has been his goal since the coronavirus outbreak started. He first hoped to relax restrictions by Easter but was then forced to backtrack due to expert warnings.
Lifting social distancing measures across the country will actually require to ramp up coronavirus testing, reaching five million tests a day by early June, according to a white paper by Harvard’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics
But that’s not all. The number will need to increase over time, ideally by late July, to 20 million a day to fully remobilize the economy, the authors argue. Even that number may not be high enough to protect public health, they added.
“In that considerably less likely eventuality, we will need to scale-up testing much further. By the time we know, if we need to do that, we should be in a better position to know how to do it. In any situation, achieving these numbers depends on testing innovation,” the authors argued.
Widespread testing would need to be combined with contact tracing and isolation for those who have the virus, the Harvard experts explain. The federal government should set up a Pandemic Testing Board to secure testing supply, as well as setting up guidelines for testing programs, they added. Ramping up testing, according to the white paper, will prevent cycles of opening up and shutting down the economy. It allows to steadily reopen the parts of the economy that have been shut down, protect workers, and contain the virus to levels where it can be effectively managed and treated.
While there is currently no vaccine or specific treatment for COVID-19, that doesn’t mean testing is pointless; in fact, early testing is crucial to curbing the spread of infection. When a person is diagnosed with a contagious disease, they can be placed under quarantine, thus avoiding infecting other people.
Nationwide testing capacity steadily increased for weeks but has appeared to hit a wall around 145,000 tests a day. Several factors are holding it back such as supply shortages for key test ingredients, poor coordination between labs, and contradicting rules in states between who should get tested.
As part of a newly formed business council, industry leaders recently reiterated to President Trump that there would need to be guarantees of ramped-up coronavirus testing before people return to work — despite his willingness to lift restrictions as soon as possible.
Many of Trump’s conservative allies have encouraged him to listen to advice from business leaders, hoping their recommendations on reopening parts of the country will counterbalance the advice of public health experts, who convinced Trump to extend social distancing guidelines by another month.