The pandemic didn’t have to happen this way.

The CDC – hamstrung by Trump who limited what they were allowed do – restricted who could get tested for the novel coronavirus. Because the CDC reported numbers only for people who were physically ill already, and nobody else (at first), the epidemic did not look like one.

It was and is an epidemic here (and a pandemic globally), but we don’t have a true picture of how many people are actually infected. The whole scheme of manipulating the testing masked the reality of the epidemic, for whatever reason. (It’s speculated that politics played a role.)

This numerical deception made the epidemic worse, and the US is basically on the same path of hospital saturation and death as Italy, but 12 days behind. That is, unless something very significant occurs — widespread mask use, a good drug treatment coming out, or the magical appearance of 5000+ extra ventilators. If you haven’t been watching Italy, well, read up a bit. No funerals; no relatives allowed to be present when someone is dying; rationing who gets a ventilator. . . We must use their ill fate as an example of what not to do. (Other countries like the UK and Germany are having issues similar to Italy, but for different reasons.)

The testing void is now being filled by States, universities, private labs, and others. At least, they’re trying to. We will only know how Covid-19 spread like it did in hindsight, which will not help us right now. Only history books will tell. In fact, several States’ Governors have said that all testing should halt because the pandemic is past the stage of containment, and it’s now a waste of resources to test.

Because we don’t know the true infection rate, we cannot get a clear handle on the true mortality rate. Now, we will never truly know, and will have to rely on estimates by epidemiologists after they pore through all of the numbers from individual testing labs. That will take a long time. We need to have that info right now, but don’t and won’t.

Put simply, the policy was “Don’t look and it will go away,” which plagues don’t do. The policy made the US epidemic much worse. It’s a national tragedy that could have easily been avoided by widespread early testing.

Mark Zurbuchen PhD