Testing failures

We are four and a half months into this coronavirus pandemic in the United States, and our testing for the virus remains woefully inadequate, despite President Trump’s almost daily proclamation that the U.S. has the best testing.

In an absurd press release issued Friday, the Trump administration claimed to have created the best COVID-19 testing in the world. “We do tremendous testing. We have the best testing in the world,” Trump is quoted as saying in the press release.

Talk about fake news.

The failures of the Trump administration in response to the pandemic, especially as it relates to testing, are monumental. His claim that there are “more cases” in the U.S. because there is “more testing” is childish logic.

Here on the Island, we’ve been fortunate to have Quest Diagnostics team up with Island Health Care to provide a testing site known as TestMV for asymptomatic individuals at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. Until that point, there was nowhere on-Island for an individual to be tested who didn’t meet a strict set of criteria laid out by Martha’s Vineyard Hospital. A person either had to be showing symptoms, to have come in contact with someone who had tested positive for COVID-19, or be in the at-risk categories.

As much as we appreciate it, there have been some shortcomings in the TestMV site.

We know of people who have gone as long as 12 days without getting results from their tests, which renders them virtually useless, given the known incubation period for COVID-19 of 14 days. (Thus the recommended 14-day self-quarantine period that Gov. Charlie Baker has put into effect for people traveling to Massachusetts from hot spots of COVID-19.)

Up until Wednesday, the TestMV site came with the disclaimer that the tests were taking up to seven days for results. Healthcare officials say the delay is because of a nationwide backlog at the labs that analyze the results. On Wednesday, Quest reported that it’s able to turn them around in five days, which is an improvement.

In recent weeks, the TestMV site has averaged more than 1,000 test results pending. With the new capacity and pool testing, they’ve been able to cut that in half, which is promising.

In a New York Times article, Adm. Brett P. Giroir, the assistant secretary for health, said getting results within two or three days is not possible because of the backlog at labs. A lag in test results also creates a lag in contact tracing, a critical component in stopping the spread of the virus, because people can spread it without knowing they have it.

How, President Trump, can that be considered the “best testing in the world?”

With cases rising at alarming rates in parts of the country, and even Massachusetts numbers starting to creep upward, we run the risk of having more shutdowns in the future unless we can bring a level of control through testing and basic measures like mask-wearing, social distancing, and good hygiene.

Another shortcoming at the Island test site has been the inability to have anyone under 18 tested, though we’re told that’s something that will be introduced soon. The test site is in the process of securing more volunteers in an effort to ramp up testing.

We do appreciate the role that Island Health Care and its CEO Cynthia Mitchell have played in setting up this site with a cast of volunteers working long hours during stretches of some hot and humid weather. They’ve stepped up and filled a role that typically is filled by a county health department — something seriously lacking on the Island. One thing this pandemic has emphasized is that as an Island, we need a way to act more quickly, and with a singular voice, to emergencies like the pandemic. 

We recognize the vital role that’s been played by the Martha’s Vineyard Bank Foundation in making sure testing is available to anyone who needs it. The bank’s foundation has committed $650,000 for COVID-19 relief; $100,000 of that is set aside for individuals who are tested, but who don’t have insurance to cover the cost.

The president’s press release should be true, but it’s not. We can and should do better.

4 COMMENTS

  1. I agree with the majority of your points. I would only add that the Test MV site is an extremely valuable resource. No results are without meaning. Widespread testing is a standard public health tool for judging community transmission. The results could prove to be very valuable for data based decision making related to returning to school. MV has been given the gift of testing availability. I hope everyone gets tested and thinks of it as helping MV take a step forward out of this darkness.

    • Given the rise in positive tests over the past week I hope that the testing site and the hospital are gathering data regarding whether those individuals have recently arrived on the island, or work here in the hospitality, service, or transportation sector. I understand HIIPPA laws protect the individual’s privacy, but clearly Governor Baker believes that the surge in MA is coming from out of state vacationers. As a tourist-driven economy, this information is important to keep people safe and understand transmission patterns.

  2. It is of little use to “ramp up testing” until ALL test results can be provided within 48 hours. Waiting for five days is still too long — a waste of resources and volunteer time, well-meaning as it is. Until Quest is able to provide timely results everyone should just take a deep breath, stay home and don’t open the schools. Doing more tests will just make it take seven days again to get the results instead of five. Clearly Quest needs more volunteers, not the the testing site.

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