America’s testing problem; Feds fighting hospitals for PPE; Inside Modly’s wild last week; And a bit more.
America has a big coronavirus testing problem: There is nowhere near enough to safely and responsibly decide when states can open back up without risking another wave of infections.
The shortage is so dire that it prompted the president on Sunday to promise the federal government would do more to fix it after multiple state governors criticized the White House for not doing enough to help especially burdened states at the moment — like Maryland, Virginia and Michigan — get a useful grasp on infections in their states.
“Some people believe in testing very strongly and other people believe in it less strongly,” President Donald Trump said Sunday. “But I believe if they [state governors] want it, we should give it to them and get it for them and work with them.”
In particularly short supply: “swabs and reagents, the chemical solutions required to run the tests,” the Washington Post reported Sunday, after the president’s promise to help states.
Trump’s verbal response to that shortage: “We’re preparing to use the Defense Production Act to increase swab production in one U.S. facility by over 20 million additional swabs per month,” he said about eight minutes into a 90-minute press conference. “We’ve had a little difficulty with one, so we’re going to call in, as we have in the past, as you know, we’re calling in the Defense Production Act and we’ll be getting swabs very easily. Swabs are easy.”
Due out from the WH: Details on that swab acquisition plan, since as WaPo reported, “White House officials did not respond to requests for details about how the measure would be implemented. [And] As of Sunday evening, there was no official paperwork released showing that the Defense Production Act had been invoked for swabs.” (You may recall it’s been a month since an Air Force C-17 airlifted a half million swabs from Italy to Tennessee.)
One big reason for America’s testing shortage: “a glaring scientific breakdown at the CDC’s central laboratory complex in Atlanta, according to scientists with knowledge of the matter and a determination by federal regulators,” the Post reported separately this weekend. “The cross contamination most likely occurred because chemical mixtures were assembled into the kits within a lab space that was also handling synthetic coronavirus material. The scientists also said the proximity deviated from accepted procedures and jeopardized testing for the virus.”
Perhaps most critically in that contamination report: “after the difficulty emerged, CDC officials took more than a month to remove the unnecessary step from the kits, exacerbating nationwide delays in testing.” Read on, here.
Bigger picture: Here’s a useful Friday headline from the New York Times: “Coronavirus Testing Needs to Triple Before the U.S. Can Reopen, Experts Say.” That’s according to a Harvard estimate, which calls for raising the current number of daily tests (at roughly 146,000 people per day) to between 500,000 and 700,000 daily by mid-May.
By the numbers:
- The U.S. has conducted 3.9 million tests so far among a population of 328 million people, according to the latest figures from COVID-19 Tracking Project.
- More than 759,000 Americans have confirmed infections to date, which the Times reports is “the highest number of known cases in the world.”
- And 40,683 Americans have died from the disease so far, according to the coronavirus tracker at Johns Hopkins University. More COVID coverage, after the fold.
From Defense One
Inside the Wild Final Week of the Acting Navy Secretary // Marcus Weisgerber and Bradley Peniston: How it all fell apart for Thomas Modly in seven days that included a two-plane, 50-hour trip to chastise a fired skipper to his sailors aboard a COVID-stricken aircraft carrier.
Without More Tests, America Can’t Reopen // Ezekiel J. Emanuel and Paul Romer, The Atlantic: And to make matters worse, we’re testing the wrong people.
We Need an Atlantic Charter for the Post-Coronavirus Era // Richard Fontaine, The Atlantic: This moment presents a once-in-a-century opportunity for American leaders to wrest a better future.
Smart Weapons Need to Be Smarter // Gregg Easterbrook, The Atlantic: No missiles should shoot down civilian airliners by mistake.
The Vermont National Guard’s Great Experiment // Kathy Gilsinan, The Atlantic: A few weeks ago, the state's Guardsmen got an impossible assignment. And then they pulled it off.
A New Statistic Reveals Why America’s Coronavirus Numbers Are Flat // Alexis Madrigal and Robinson Meyer, The Atlantic: Few figures tell you anything useful about how COVID-19 has spread through the U.S. Here’s one that does.
Welcome to this Monday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Send us tips from your community right here. And if you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day in 1861, Robert E. Lee resigned his commission in the U.S. Army to command the forces of the state of Virginia. Almost exactly four years later, he would effectively admit to having joined a racist and losing team when he and the Confederates surrendered on April 9, 1865.
The U.S. has become a veritable Wild West of test acquisition efforts. Because on Sunday the NYTs reported “The Food and Drug Administration has allowed about 90 companies, many based in China, to sell tests that have not gotten government vetting, saying the pandemic warrants an urgent response. But the [FDA] has since warned that some of those businesses are making false claims about their products.”
Said one doctor to the Times: “We’re not even in the second inning of a nine-inning game at this point.”
Said F.D.A. commissioner, Dr. Stephen M. Hahn, in a statement Saturday: “We are continuing to learn and adapt based on the real-world experience and data we’re seeing.” More from the Times on America’s desperate race to find a COVID-19 antibody, here.
Meanwhile, the federal government is fighting U.S. hospitals for PPE, according to an astonishing article published Friday in the normally staid and technical New England Journal of Medicine. “Deals, some bizarre and convoluted, and many involving large sums of money, have dissolved at the last minute when we were outbid or outmuscled, sometimes by the federal government,” writes Dr. Andrew W. Artenstein, a physician chief executive at Baystate Health in Springfield, Massachusetts. Read that, here.
“Those measures do not seem unusual, horrifyingly enough,” writes David Wallace-Wells at New York magazine. “Last month, 3 million masks ordered by the state of Massachusetts were seized by the federal government. Last week, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that the governor of Illinois, J.B. Pritzker, was arranging secret chartered flights of supplies as a way of outmaneuvering federal interference.” Read on, here.
In other news, Canada just suffered its worst killing spree in decades after a gunman killed at least 13 people in an overnight shooting rampage across rural Nova Scotia. Agence France-Presse has the story, here.
And finally today: Go inside the acting Navy Secretary’s wild last week. New details about Thomas Modly’s whirlwind final week as acting Navy secretary shed light on how the service’s civilian leader chose to spend his time as a global pandemic sidelined an aircraft carrier on a high-profile deployment.
Not just one but two VIP business jets were scrambled from the mid-Atlantic to Guam in the wake of Modly’s decisions to fire the captain of USS Theodore Roosevelt, then fly to the ship and denigrate the former skipper to his crew.
Read: How it all fell apart for Modly, here.