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Painful pandemic lessons: Cut the red tape

Empower Wisconsin | June 19, 2020

By Sam Ashworth-Hayes, National Review

Early this year, the United States faced a conundrum. Understanding and controlling the spread of the coronavirus outbreak required a massive scale-up in the ability of the country to test individuals suspected of carrying the virus, but the rules and procedures put in place by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) meant that this couldn’t happen.

The problems began in January. Germany developed a test for the virus; the World Health Organization approved the test and began to distribute it; the CDC refused to authorize it. Instead, there would be an official American test, developed by the CDC. Labs around the country would be sent a copy of the test, asked to validate it, and then could get on with the business of testing for the virus.

The problem was that the tests didn’t work. Of more than 100 public-health labs engaged in testing, only three produced valid results. And even they had to send positive samples back to Atlanta for verification. Around the United States, capacity sat idle while an overwhelmed CDC worked around the clock to send test results back, and the coronavirus took hold.

Because test numbers were so limited — at one point, the United States had managed to test only 459, at a time when South Korea had tested 65,000 — they were rationed out on a strict set of criteria, meaning that most symptomatic Americans could not get tested. The CDC refused to test the first probable case of community transmission in California because the patient had not recently traveled to China.

The frustrating thing is that developing a test is not an impossible task; labs at universities and hospitals around the USA have the capacity to do so. When the government gave up its stranglehold and the FDA decided that labs that developed and validated their own tests could use them without official authorization, testing numbers rocketed.

In normal times, regulations dissuade innovation, hold back production, and raise prices. The coronavirus pandemic handed the U.S. a stark reminder that these costs are not merely financial.

Read more at National Review. 

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