Today Brings More Weird Tap Dancing About COVID-19 Testing

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Chuck Todd asked Dr. Deborah Birx this morning about scaling up COVID-19 testing:

Birx said the task force intends to continue working with states to scale up testing for those sick with the virus. “At the same time,” she added, “we have to realize that we have to have a breakthrough innovation in testing” for those who have already had the virus but had either mild or no symptoms.

Say what? There’s no way to do enough testing with our current PCR-based tests? “We have to be able to detect antigens,” Birx said. We need a “huge technology breakthrough.”

Todd followed up. There’s really no way to ramp up testing capacity using the current PCR tests? No, no, not at all! You’ve misunderstood! Birx then said something about new technology that will come online “in the next two to three weeks.” The antigen testing is just better and easier.

Hell, I can almost see how Donald Trump could get confused if this is how his advisors talk about things. We could obviously ramp up testing using currently existing technology if we wanted to. It might be expensive and it might take a while, but it’s just a manufacturing and infrastructure task and Congress has allocated $25 billion to it. That’s a lot of money!

So why this initial blather about how we really can’t ramp up testing without an antigen screening tool? Beats me. And what is this new PCR testing technology that’s coming online in the next few weeks? I’ve read about lots of new testing tech, but I don’t know which one Birx is talking about. Or is she just guessing that one of them is bound to pay off sometime soon?

This is nuts. If there’s one thing that literally every expert seems to agree on, it’s the need for vast amounts of testing capacity. This is why Democrats added that $25 billion to the recent coronavirus bill. So why can’t we ever get a straight answer from anyone in the Trump administration about just what the plan is? This isn’t the Manhattan Project, after all, and it’s not something that needs to remain a secret from the public. Just tell us.

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This is a big one for us. So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

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