We still don't even know how many people are infected.
Donald Trump once again called on the country to be reopened this week, even as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases continues to swell.
Given his administration's failure to enact widespread testing, that could mean sending workers back to business without knowing who among them is infected.
Trump claimed Wednesday that the media wanted to continue social distancing efforts as part of some ulterior motive to hurt his reelection.
"The LameStream Media is the dominant force in trying to get me to keep our Country closed as long as possible in the hope that it will be detrimental to my election success," he tweeted. "The real people want to get back to work ASAP. We will be stronger than ever before!"
On Thursday, Trump also wrote to the nation's governors and promised that his administration would soon "publish new guidelines for State and local policymakers to use in making decisions about maintaining, increasing, or relaxing social distancing and other mitigation measures they have put in place."
"Here's what we envision," he wrote. "Our expanded testing capabilities will quickly enable us to publish criteria, developed in close coordination with the Nation's public health officials and scientists, to help classify counties with respect to continued risks posed by the virus."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has now confirmed more than 68,000 likely COVID-19 cases in the United States — yet fewer than half a million Americans have been tested even once for the coronavirus that causes it.
The current U.S. population stands at around 329 million. As of Wednesday, the COVID Tracking Project, which collects the most recent testing data out of all 50 states, reported that about 74,000 tests had been conducted nationally the day before, with 418,810 test results total to date.
Trump falsely claimed on March 6 that "anybody that wants a [coronavirus] test can get a test. That's what the bottom line is."
Twenty days later, even those who need tests are still not getting them and the turnaround time for results often takes nearly a week.
In Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia — where more than 1,200 cases have been reported — access to testing is tightly controlled.
"People who are seeking a test for coronavirus have to have a doctor's referral and then have to pass the screening put in place by the hospital or clinic that’s doing the testing," the Washington Post reported Thursday. "People being tested should also be aware that it takes from three to seven days to get results, which come from state- or privately run laboratories."
California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Wednesday that the number of tests in California had more than doubled, from 27,000 on Monday to almost 67,000, as more labs, universities, and health care providers began doing testing.
But the results of 73% of those were still pending as of Wednesday and Newsom noted that the number of tests available was still "not good enough."
On Tuesday, the New Yorker reported that "widespread" coronavirus testing would not be available any time soon, due to a "critical shortage of the physical components needed to carry out tests of any variety." That includes viral transport media, extraction kids, reagents to develop the tests, and even the test swabs used to collect samples.
Meanwhile, the federal government itself has stopped pretending that everyone can get tested.
Adm. Brett Giroir, the Department of Health and Human Services' newly appointed coronavirus testing "czar," who has been charged with coordinating efforts between federal agencies, told a Texas radio host on Wednesday, "Right now, the priority is really for those who are hospitalized or sick, health care workers and first responders, people 65 and over who are sick. Because we're not at the level of having tens of millions of people tested."
"If you are healthy, don't worry about it," he advised. "If you're mildly ill, you do not need a test. Stay at home, protect yourself, and call your provider. But you don't need to run in for a test right now... we're not ready to do 50 million people tomorrow. Right now we have to prioritize."
The interview was first flagged by the advocacy group Accountable.us.
Because the virus is so new, scientists are still learning about its symptoms. Experts say many people who become infected may be asymptomatic, and may pass it to others without knowing.
Without widespread testing, it will be impossible to know which people have low, medium, or high risk. Ending social distancing, then, seems certain to make the pandemic even worse.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.