May 12, 2020
We the Untested
Update: Just hours after we posted this article, we were heartened to see Jim Cramer, former hedge fund manager, and prominent author and host of CNBC’s Mad Money express parallel concerns.
What if COVID-19 is a molehill not a mountain? Or worse, especially in light of the massive restrictions under which we suffer, what if it is a hoax? Would it matter? Ethically, of course. Should where any group or individual finds themselves in terms of belief divide us? No. We all want this to be over. We all want clear and comprehensive information. Those who are protesting bare-faced in the streets want the same thing as those who have been too cautious to leave their homes for the past month or two: we want an end to the siege. We want to bid adieu to uncertainty. If this pandemic is a “plandemic,” how can that be proven to the satisfaction of every American? It seems, not easily.
At the moment, comprehensive numbers on antibody tests being distributed and their results are not readily available. We have reached out to Ipsum Diagnostics, and Health Labs both of which offer COVID-19 antibody testing on their websites for assistance, and neither was willing to offer us clarity. While antibody testing is not going to be an overnight solution, its exploration does need to be made a priority. And the steps taken in that exploration need to be part of the conversation with the public. It should be as easy to find progress reports and numbers on antibody testing as it is to find instructions on homemade masks.
There are plenty of numbers available regarding diagnostic testing. Easily accessed are numbers of people tested, positives and negatives. This information can be found arranged by state, county, and city. Information on results by age can be easily obtained. As of May 8th, the CDC list of fatalities due to COVID-19 tops 47,000. To clarify, this number only accounts for deaths occurring between February 1st and May 2nd. That number does not include deaths with multiple contributing factors that include COVID-19. It is also not current, as there is a lag time between a person’s death and the completion of their paperwork. As of May10, the number of COVID deaths in New York for people over 65 and older was 1836 out of 100,000.
Those who do not find the numbers to be of concern seem to have a significant overlap with those who do find PPE and social distancing to be a burden. They will point out that insufficient testing has led to skewed numbers. That there could be many people who contracted the coronavirus whose symptoms were mild or nonexistent. They argue that this means percentage-wise, COVID-19 is not as deadly as most believe. They are almost certainly right. Which is why they should be pushing for testing.
Until a vaccine is available, we need easy access to both diagnostic testing and antibody testing. Diagnostic testing is highly relevant presently, and has so far taken precedence as far as development, distribution, and administration. According to a compilation by Johns Hopkins, Rhode Island has now administered (the following numbers are per 100,000) 7786 diagnostic tests for COVID. 996 of those tested were confirmed infected, with 36.7 fatalities. Currently, Rhode Island holds the honors for most testing done. On the other end of the spectrum is Virginia with 1446 tests done, 253 confirmed cases, and 9 deaths. Again, these numbers are per 100,000.
Those of us who live in America are used to certain luxuries. We often refer to them as inalienable rights. The short story is, we are allowed to speak our minds. Every American is allowed to say almost anything they want to in nearly every situation. We have essentially unencumbered voices. And we have so very many. Well over three-hundred-million. The problem with hundreds of millions of voices is that they contain hundreds of millions of conflicting opinions in a time where winnowing is essential. We are currently wasting our voices.
Now is not the time to focus on how to get back to the one thing you miss most. In any given group we may have one voice shouting that we need to bring back salons, another screaming about the audacity of being asked to participate in health safety protocols when in public, and others who grumble about not being able to shop with friends, or see a movie, or dine in. These voices with their petty concerns drown each other out and leave no room for a larger and collective goal. Now is not the time for us to focus on our pet agenda. Now is the time to focus on the big picture. To focus on what will, if prioritized, allow us all to get back to our private pursuits.
In a commendable move, Ford and General Motors, well known automobile companies, jumped in to contribute to producing ventilators and other safety equipment. We need to see this kind of leadership and problem solving from more companies, and we need to encourage our leaders to incentivize them to do so. This means that the populace needs to cease focusing on the trivial and speak up for what matters most in this crisis. While ventilators and face masks are certainly essential in the short term, we can come up with better solutions for the long haul. To do that, we need to focus on an area where we are failing spectacularly.
Serology, or antibody testing.
Abundant, accurate, affordable testing is what will allow us to start finding a way forward. The protests that are happening across the country need to be about the lack of tests available. They do not need to be about the temporarily interrupted schedules of Ladies who Lunch or the untoward length of someone’s bangs. As of May 4th, only twelve COVID-19 antibody tests have been approved for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration. Up to two hundred more are awaiting or undergoing review for emergency approval. This morning, Abbott Labs announced they too were granted emergency approval by the FDA for their own coronavirus antibody test. Abbott has indicated that they will ship 30 million tests this month, and 60 million in June. However, the goal should not be to ram any test available through the approval process. There is no point in increasing quantity if the quality is lacking.
One of the thirteen emergency approved tests comes out of Mount Sinai. Per their website, “We’ve made the underlying technology available to companies and are pursuing the development of testing kits for use by commercial laboratories.” As undeniably important as diagnostics are, they are not enough ease us into a future that bears some resemblance to our recent past. For that, we need reliable antibody testing. And to ensure that those tests can be trusted, we need to exponentially expand the scope of our antibody testing research and development. From a layman’s perspective, the two main issues to be tackled are discovering how much protection (if any) antibodies to the virus will offer, and determining how long that protection could be expected to last. Inquiry into the second factor especially will require extensive time.
We need to bring our hundreds of millions of voices together and demand that research and production of antibody tests be made a national priority. This is the bandwagon that every one of us needs to jump on immediately and enthusiastically. For those who think this is all being blown out of proportion, testing may prove you right. For those who are terrified of becoming infected, or infecting a loved one, testing can provide reassurance. For those who want to see all businesses reopen, whether as proprietors or as customers, testing will provide a safer and less restrictive path.
Although not all believe the numbers, or find them sufficient to justify the measures that have been taken, we should remember the moral components of our situation. Do we choose to be civilized, and protect our weak? Are we obligated to sacrifice for the good of a stranger? There are those who believe we are not. But if we choose not, (and the choice will be made whether by action or inaction) we need to acknowledge that slippery slope as well as the fact that someday we will be the weak, and be prepared to fend for ourselves accordingly.
There are so many benefits to living in a society. There are also obligations. If we want to rightly consider ourselves civilized, we do need to consider the good of the whole. We need to weigh that consideration at least as heavily as we do the good of the one. Especially in a case such as this, where when we focus on the big picture, the end goal is the same. This is our chance to make important choices. And there is a correct choice. So please, continue to feel so strongly. Keep raising those voices. But do realize it is time to think bigger. It shouldn’t matter where you stand on the spectrum of belief. We all want the same thing. Safety and some semblance of normality. It is time to raise our voices in harmony. It is time to get results.