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The Lost Month and Lost Lives

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The ability to do widespread testing is critically important when trying to contain a pandemic. The failure to set it up in February will make this much more deadly and disruptive than it needed to be:

But as the deadly virus from China spread with ferocity across the United States between late January and early March, large-scale testing of people who might have been infected did not happen — because of technical flaws, regulatory hurdles, business-as-usual bureaucracies and lack of leadership at multiple levels, according to interviews with more than 50 current and former public health officials, administration officials, senior scientists and companyexecutives.

The result was a lost month, when the world’s richest country — armed with some of the most highly trained scientists and infectious disease specialists — squandered its best chance of containing the virus’s spread. Instead, Americans were left largely blind to the scale of a looming public health catastrophe.

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The C.D.C. also tightly restricted who could get tested and was slow to conduct “community-based surveillance,” a standard screening practice to detect the virus’s reach. Had the United States been able to track its earliest movements and identify hidden hot spots, local quarantines might have confined the disease.

Dr. Stephen Hahn, 60, the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, enforced regulations that paradoxically made it tougher for hospitals, private clinics and companies to deploy diagnostic tests in an emergency.Other countries that had mobilized businesses were testing tens of thousands daily, compared with fewer than 100 on average in the United States, frustrating local health officials, lawmakers and desperate Americans.

Alex M. Azar II, who led the Department of Health and Human Services, oversaw the two other agencies and coordinated the government’s public health response to the pandemic. While he grew frustrated as public criticism over the testing issues intensified, he was unable to push either agency to speed up or change course.

Mr. Azar, 52, who chaired the coronavirus task force until late February, when Vice President Mike Pence took charge, had been at odds for months with the White House over other issues. The task force’s chief liaison to the president was Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, who was being forced out by Mr. Trump. Without high-level interest — or demands for action — the testing issue festered.

The chief executive 1)having no administrative ability at all, 2)being only able to focus on actions that also involve racist scapegoating, and 3)not wanting to have any bad news that implicates him circulate is the single biggest problem, but there was a lot of failure involved here. Definitely worth reading the whole etc.

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