As cities and states across America begin a piecemeal process of reopening from shutdowns, experts warn that the lack of testing equipment, medical supplies and national coordination hasn’t been solved.
Last Friday, U.S. PIRG, Get Us PPE and Doctors for America co-hosted a panel on which leading physicians and U.S. Representative Andy Kim (N.J.) from the House Select Committee on the Coronavirus Crisis discussed how we can keep health care workers safe so that they, in turn, can treat the general public.
Congressman Kim, a former diplomat and national security official, called the coronavirus pandemic a national security crisis that underscores the need for national leadership. We don’t ask each state to build its own missile defense infrastructure, said Kim, but panelists from across the country reported cities, states, and even individual hospitals thrown into zero-sum battles to secure vital personal protective equipment.
Dr. Joe Kanter, the Louisiana Department of Health’s lead official for the Greater New Orleans Region, said that supply chains are so tangled he has to order eight to ten times the amount of PPE he needs because “having a purchase order on paper is meaningless.” Even though there’s more important work to do, his “team members here spend a lot of time and energy standing up these byzantine procurement systems.” Giving doctors and health professionals adequate time and equipment to do their jobs was a common theme among the panel.
Another recurring theme called for leadership in centralizing data to improve experts’ picture of the pandemic. This requires vastly expanding the supply, coordination and quality of tests. Rep Kim called testing a “radar system” that lets us see the “invisible enemy” to better confront it. Dr. Jeremy Faust, attending physician at the Health Policy Division at Brigham and Women’s Hospital Department of Emergency Medicine, said the FDA needs to closely monitor tests to prevent false positives and negatives, “information that makes you dumber [when] you think you know something that isn't true."
Improving the picture of the pandemic is like “hitting a “moving target on a moving vehicle,” as Rep. Kim put it, but it’s central to figuring out how states can safely reopen. Ideally, said Dr. Faust, tests would be as accessible as tap water, or at least easily available at every pharmacy. Much of the panel’s debate centered on optimizing this constrained resource – prioritizing health care workers, protecting nursing homes and testing strategically to glean information about the spread. More testing would improve our “radar system” and give experts the ability to focus resources where they’re needed most.
By greatly increasing testing capacity, we can protect health care workers, crush the curve and save lives. When asked how we get more testing, Dr. Julie Parsonnet, a Stanford University professor of infectious diseases and epidemiology, responded, "It has to be a national priority. There is no other way." Join us in lifting your voice to demand that medical workers and health care professionals have enough tests and supplies to meet the needs of this crisis.
Sign our petition urging Adm. Brett Giroir, the U.S. testing chief, to build up the fast, accurate and comprehensive testing infrastructure we need.