The CDC Is Still Botching the Coronavirus Testing Process
Over and over again, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have bungled the response to COVID-19. The agency is supposed to stand at the forefront of the federal government’s defense against pandemics, but in the effort to track, identify, and slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, it has repeatedly proven that it’s not up to the task.
The agency publishes statistics purporting to show the number of Americans tested, and the number of positive and negative results. In theory, this should provide a clear snapshot of both the spread of the virus and the number of people who have been tested.
Yet as The Atlantic reported yesterday, the agency has been conflating the results of two very different tests: viral tests, which determine if an individual is sick right now, and antibody tests, which are designed to reveal whether an individual has ever been exposed to the pathogen. This makes it impossible to determine the true spread of the virus at any given moment. As The Atlantic‘s Alexis Madrigal and Robinson Meyer write, combining the results of these two tests without providing a breakdown of how many fall into which category is, “at best, a debilitating mistake.”
It isn’t the first such error the CDC has made. At nearly every stage of the crisis, the agency has botched the job in small and large ways that continue to cripple our response. The agency is a poster child for bureaucratic incompetence.
Early in February, the agency misreported the results from mislabeled test samples taken from a group of individuals who were being quarantined at a San Diego military base after being evacuated from Wuhan, China, where the virus originated. The CDC initially informed the group that, f
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