Public officials across the United States are flying blind against the COVID-19 epidemic.
Because of a government-engineered testing fiasco, they do not know how fast the virus is spreading, how many people have been infected by it, how many will die as a result or how many have developed immunity to it.
The failure to implement early and wide testing, which was caused by a combination of short-sightedness, ineptitude and bureaucratic intransigence, left politicians scrambling to avoid a hospital crisis by imposing broad business closures and stay-at-home orders. It foreclosed the possibility of a more proactive and targeted approach, focused on identifying carriers, tracing their contacts and protecting the public through isolation and quarantines.
The initial outbreak of COVID-19 in Wuhan, China, was reported at the end of December. The first confirmed case in the United States was reported on Jan. 20, by which time it seems likely that many other Americans were already infected.
At first, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention monopolized COVID-19 tests. When the CDC began shipping test kits to state laboratories in early February, they turned out to be defective.
The CDC and the Food and Drug Administration initially blocked efforts by universities and businesses to develop and conduct tests before relaxing the restrictions that made it impossible to assess the progress of the epidemic. Making a false virtue of necessity, the CDC set irrationally narrow criteria for testing, which meant that carriers without severe symptoms or obvious risk factors escaped detection.