Did the Trump Administration Overpromise 1 Million COVID-19 Diagnostic Tests by the End of This Week?

The FDA has finally approved commercial diagnostic tests.


The United States lags way behind China, South Korea, and even Italy in deploying wide-scale diagnostic testing for the coronavirus responsible for the COVID-19 respiratory illness. For example, China had 5 commercial diagnostic tests available a month ago and can now administer 1.6 million tests per week, according to Science. Private U.S. companies have similarly developed COVID-19 diagnostic tests. In fact, Europe uses, among others, a test developed by the Utah-based biotech company Co-Diagnostics.

In the meantime, U.S. health authorities have insisted on using a diagnostic test devised by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that turned out to be flawed. In addition, the use of the CDC test limited testing to folks who had traveled to affected countries or who had come into contact with such travelers. This narrow focus was all but guaranteed to miss any community spread of the disease.

On February 29, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) loosened its regulatory stranglehold on COVID-19 diagnostic testing. On Sunday, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar promised a "radical expansion" of testing by the end of this week. The good news is that on Tuesday, Co-Diagnostics was allowed to begin selling its COVID-19 diagnostic test in the U.S.

At a Senate hearing earlier today, FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn told lawmakers that he believed that manufacturers should be able to supply by Friday 2,500 test kits enabling laboratories to perform up to 500 tests per kit, amounting to the ability to administer more than 1 million diagnostic tests. Assuming the tests are available, people still have to be tested. On CBS' Face the Nation this past Sunday, former FDA Commission Scott Gottlieb estimated that testing could be ramped up to 10,000 persons per day by the end of the week and up to 20,000 per day by the end of the following week.

Once more widespread testing takes off, we will have a much better handle on just how dangerous COVID-19 is compared to other epidemics of respiratory illnesses such as influenza. Right now, I am betting that it is likely to be no worse than a particularly bad flu season, with a case-fatality rate somewhere between 0.2 and 0.5 percent. That's not great, but it's not apocalyptic.

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  1. Hopefully the test kits exist, and testing becomes more widespread. Reducing uncertainty about this virus will be good.

    In other news, the Fed cut rates by about 1/3, or 0.5%, and the Dow still crapped out, dropping 850. Perhaps China returning to work by the end of March will soothe things.

    1. Consider the Dow crapped out because of the rate cut. If the Fed is that concerned about the situation, maybe investors should be concerned as well.

      Same as the test kit availability – would you feel better if they announced they’d have 100 million test kits available by the end of the month? Or would you be more concerned that they seem to think they’re going to need that damn many?

      Reminds me of that time my early-to-bed dad got up late one evening and when we asked him what he was doing up so late he said he thought he had heard a noise outside – and then he got the pump 12 out of the gun cabinet and started loading it. We didn’t know what he thought he heard but it obviously was something he wasn’t taking lightly so we thought it might be wise not to take it lightly either. (Turns out it was a couple of raccoons trying to jimmy the cellar door around back where we had a bunch of apples stored. Raccoons attempting to jimmy a cellar door sound exactly the same as humans trying to jimmy a cellar door so dad was prepared.)

      1. (Should also point out that we kept an old single-shot .410 behind the kitchen door loaded with birdshot just in case you needed a conversation starter, but when dad started loading the pump 12 with deer slugs you knew shit was serious.)

    2. I’m not so sure uncertainty about the virus is good here in the US.

      More tests = more positives. So far the US has been effectively suppressing the number of confirmed cases by not testing. Managing the news cycle in order to goose the stock market. If the first day of testing results in an increase of cases from 124 to 600+, – where South Korea was two weeks ago – it will be a very unwelcome wake-up call since those will all be non-hospitalized. Which means we’ll have the same quarantine questions that Korea, Italy, Iran and Hubei have faced.

      And the default quarantine period of 14 days that has been used almost everywhere will come under serious question. That’s a number that was picked for MERS. The US has been considered the leading medical expert in fighting these things and if that 14 days originated from us… fighting the last war. For Covid-19, the number I’ve seen is that it may be up to 24 days. Oops.

      1. If the disease has broken out without a quarantine then the number is much higher than 124 or 600. Considering the lack of reports of mysterious illnesses or death tolls, I’m going to guess the real numbers are much closer in the US to the reported numbers.

        Remember, we don’t have a land border with any country that has a unquarantined outbreak, and we put in travel restrictions to infected countries when the risk was still mild.

        1. We have not only not been testing, we also have massive disincentives against both testing and quarantine. Take the test and its negative and you’ll be charged for the test. Take the test and its positive and you’ll be charged (a lot) for the quarantine. Along with other consequences of a patient-pays medical system, this all serves to eliminate all knowledge/data about the spread of a disease that occurs OUTSIDE ER admitted-patients. The US, quite uniquely for a rich country, will have a huge ‘unknown’ for this entire epidemic and the only thing that will be known about the unknown is that those folks will have milder cases themselves – or even be asymptomatic (300 or so of the 700 confirmed cases on the Diamond Princess were asymptomatic) – but are still quite infectious.

          When I said 600 – I also said ‘first day’. Based on the limited stuff I know (all public), my guess is that the disease has been community-spreading in Seattle for six weeks and in Silicon Valley for about five weeks. Those places have not been under travel restrictions. Even with the known cases, our MO is ‘in-home isolation’. IOW – about as effective as a doctor telling patients they shouldn’t smoke. Effective long-term. Not so much short-term.

          1. As an aside – This newspaper article about the first confirmed coronavirus patient being released from hospital in early Feb has a little tidbit of info. At that point, the CDC had tested 260 people from 36 states – 167 negative, 89 pending. AFAIK (or roughly a week ago), only an additional 400 people have been tested in the month since

            IOW – just about the time community-spread actually started – we stopped testing anyone (and by that I mean people who’ve been admitted to hospital because they have a serious case) who couldn’t be directly traced to some overseas contact. I believe that’s called locking the barn door after the horse has already escaped

  2. What’s with the headline? Doesn’t seem to match the article. I don;t see any indication or evidence in the article that the test kits will not be available. Not everything has to be about Trump.

    How about “FDA Commissioner Says 1,000,000 COVID-19 Test Kits by End of Week”?

    1. You realize if Lovecon made this exact comment you’d bitch about it, right? Or are you finally understanding some of the criticism towards Reason about their TDS?

      1. Or are you finally understanding some of the criticism towards Reason about their TDS?

        STFU! You’re supposed to let the retard make another 2-3 perfectly sensible comments like this before you spring the TDS trap on them.

        1. Lol. My bad.

          1. You guys almost won me over, too.

      2. I will be as open minded as possible going forward. I am usually critical of comments like that because they are usually some flavor of, “Markets are up, black unemployment at all time low, but you gotta write about Topic-XYZ! TDS!” Which I don’t agree with.

        1. Nah. There’s plenty of times the headlines are more anti-Trump than the article, and plenty of times there are either negative statements about Trump that have tangential at best connections to the article, or are opinion presented as fact.

          Maybe in those specific cases it’s others responding and not you, but I’m pretty sure you’re one of the ranking members of the “you suck Trump dick!” brigade.

          1. I try to be impartial and keep things topic-focused, but I’m not perfect. And in my defense, I’ve put up with a lot worse from the pro trump troll crowd than anyone has had to put up with from me.

            1. Because you called them trump dick sucker dummy.

              1. Well that’s because they sucked Trump’s dick.

                I tried and tried to stay above the insults, but once the pedo accusations were getting thrown around willy nilly, wishes of harm being made always stopping just short of a personal threat, and racist remarks being made about my family, I lost my cool and decided to speak to you in your own language.

                I believe you are one of the slanderous instigators, Jesse, so I don’t know what you’re complaining about. Just cry-bullying like your hero?

                1. “Well that’s because they sucked Trump’s dick.”

                  There it is.

                  1. Humor.

                2. 1. The pedo “accusations” come from your assumed, may or may not be seriously, status as an alter ego of chemjeff, who has argued that people who rape children while awaiting asylum hearings in the US have a human right to receive asylum in the US, which has no right to deny them residence no matter their actions on US soil, nor manner of entry, while their case is being considered.
                  2. Wishes of harm… well, act like an enemy, be treated as an enemy.
                  3. I’ve never seen any “racist remarks about your family” and you invoke “racism” with no regard to context or reality, so your characterization of something as “racist” carries little to no credibility.
                  Now go suck more deep state dick

                  1. Red Rocks and Tricky Vic went after my family one evening. Very specifically about their race, making several crude jokes about my wife and kids. I think Tricky Vic was joking around and assumed I was lying about having a family, or like you said that I’m an alter ego of another poster, so I don’t hold it against him. Red Rocks, I think he is an actual piece of shit.

                    I’m not Jeff.

                  2. And you can’t wish away people telling people to kill themselves, that they should have their head on a spike, etc. If those comments were given in person, they would result in violence. Cowards take to their keyboards to avoid real confrontation.

                    not to mention, we are all Americans here (mostly). If you find yourself wishing someone would line up your political opposites against a wall and kill them, well you might not be a libertarian.

      3. >>Lovecon


        1. Is Lovecon a convention for mdma-fueled sex enthusiasts? Count me in too, please.

          1. You need the mdma because most of them aren’t worth it.

      4. The criticism is still a bit misplaced. Trump creates this. He is a total narcissist and that is what narcissists do.

        They stake a position and make it about themselves. If someone criticizes that position, then the narcissist will play victim and turn that criticism into something about themselves. It doesn’t take long before those who do oppose him on multiple positions turn their criticism into something personal. Which confirms to the narcissist (and those who support him on multiple positions) that it was always about him all along. The narcissist makes himself the center of attention for everything that moves.

        The only way to deal with a narcissist is to ignore them. That’s not easy when the narcissist is Prez and you’re writing stories that are political. Even if you do succeed in ignoring them, you can’t actually succeed at that. Because if someone else becomes the center of attention, then guess who comes along to attack the person who is the center of attention in order to make himself the center of attention

    2. Here’s the rule of media thumb:

      If you like the president, it’s the agency that gets called out.

      If you don’t like the president, it’s Trump’s [fill-in-the-blank].

      NPR was really good about sticking to this rule of thumb.

      1. One to look out for.

        1. And BTW, although I used ‘trump’ as the example, this goes way back before Trump. I remember it was always “Bush administration does ‘x'”, but then when Obama was elected, it suddenly became “The FDA/EPA/ICE/AFT/NHTSA etc. does X”.

    3. Exactly. They can’t help themselves. Trump does not make the tests and his information comes from the FDA.

    4. “What’s with the headline? ”

      Click bait.

  3. U.S. health authorities have insisted on using a diagnostic test devised by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that turned out to be flawed.

    On February 29, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) loosened its regulatory stranglehold on Covid-19 diagnostic testing.

    It’s a good thing our government is looking out for us…

  4. Right now, I am betting that it is likely to be no worse than a particularly bad flu season, with a case-fatality rate somewhere between 0.2 and 0.5 percent. That’s not great, but it’s not apocalyptic.

    Everything we know about the CFR is that it’s higher than that. And that’s the good science, not the conspiracy theory stuff.

    Even then, it’s not JUST the CFR, but the R0 (rate of infection) that is alarmingly high with this one. Which means, even if the REAL mortality rate is much lower, every indication is that it will spread rapidly, and more akin to norovirus. CoronaVirus lives on surfaces and only Alcohol over 70% will kill it.

    No one talks about Norovirus much in terms of death rate, but it’s a far more ‘standard’ form of flu and they’ll close schools over it.

    1. The other issue for many countries is not just the CFR, but the way this could tax various healthcare systems. Some statistics to keep in mind:

      In Italy the rate of ITU cases (Intensive Care Unit) is 8.2%. That has nothing to do with death rate, but has to do with the rate of seriousness of the given cases. Some countries, especially those with say, perfectly decent healthcare quality, but limited supply (looking at you, England and Canada), a high rate can overwhelm and tax healthcare systems. So essentially dear old Grandma who caught COVID-19 with a co-morbidity has to wait in line behind homeless drug addict who’s been living in self-induced squalor. Medicare for all!

      1. Yeah, no one has an immunity to this stuff. Even if it was the exact same as the flu. It would be the exact same as the flu if no one had been vaccinated.

      2. I hear they’re already working on adjusting respirator standards so that more types of respirators can be used for this.

        They’re expecting the case load to surpass current respirator supply. And that’s in the US.

    2. Yep.

      For the Science Correspondent, Bailey isn’t that good at math.

      R0 seems incredibly high. People think it might become endemic. If it does, Bailey’s rather hopeful 0.3 – 0.5% turns into big numbers quickly, and that’s not counting the damage from the much higher hospitalization rate.

      I live in King County, WA, where the US deaths have been occurring. We went from 1 death to over half a dozen in a day or two. The deaths/recoveries was a hell of a lot higher than 0.3%.

      I wish the coronavirus counter was working. I wanted to check the numbers.

      1. The numbers for King County are grim. It hit an assisted living facility.
        9 deaths. 1 recovery.
        King County, WA, US
        Confirmed: 31
        Deaths: 9
        Recovered: 1
        Existing: 21

  5. WTF does this have to do with Trump?

    Yes he has been slaving away in his laboratory in the basement developing rna test kits for the virus lolo

    Meanwhile it is a good thing that commercial kits will soon be widely available.

    I found the company website. Looks like simplified process that comes with everything the lab would need.

    Copied and pasted here if anyone is interested.

    The Logix Smart™ Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Test kit is an in vitro diagnostic test that uses our patented CoPrimer™ technology for the qualitative detection of the RNA from SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus (COVID-19).
    The test operates using a single step real-time reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) process in lower respiratory tract specimens (e.g. bronchoalveolar lavage, sputum, tracheal aspirate), upper respiratory tract specimens (e.g. nasopharyngeal fluids, nasal swab), and serum from patients who meet the clinical criteria (e.g. signs and symptoms) for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) as established by WHO (WHO, 2020) and the US CDC (CDC, 2020) (e.g. fever, cough, shortness of breath, travel history to China).
    Ready-to-use Master Mix, complete with RNaseP internal positive control to verify sample quality
    Positive Control (PC), to verify the performance of the master mix
    Nuclease-Free Water as a negative control, to verify master mix is free from contamination
    Each kit provides reagents sufficient for 100 reactions.

    1. (e.g. fever, cough, shortness of breath, travel history to China Italy, South Korea, England, China, King County).


    2. BTW that was the SARS test. I assume the new one uses the same technology.

      1. Misread it. It does refer to the new test and uses the same technology as the SARS. Test. Yeesh and it is only Tuesday.

  6. Now that government regulators are out of the way, of course we will get millions of test kits because muh capitalism and free marketz.

  7. This is a consequential story, and some quick good news, but it would really benefit from greater scientific and libertarian curiosity and data.

    It would be great to hear what statements the FDA and CDC people would give Reason about their actions:

    – What actions they had taken so far.
    – What criteria they originally thought had to be met before making test kits available.
    – What were the estimated costs and benefits of applying those criteria.
    – Who exactly was deciding on whether to allow manufacturers access to markets prior to the accelerated release, and what exactly was their decision process.
    – What are the risks of accelerated release and how will these risks be mitigated.

    As this story stands, I could have learned this little by calling up the press releases.

  8. Just go ahead and change the name of this rag already.
    Here are some that fit-
    ‘Trump Sucks’, ‘We Hate Trump’, Everything is Trump’s Fault’, and the best one, though wordy- ‘Even Though Trump Has Been The Closest President In Recent US History To Libertarian Ideals, He’s Still A Big Poopy-Head And Besides, We’re Really An Ultra Left-Wing Pro-Illegal Anti-White Propaganda Machine.’

    1. The closest President in recent U.S. history to libertarian ideals?

      The focus of his presidency is tariffs, immigration restrictions, and treating countries differently than others via bilateral agreements instead of multilateral agreements. Any libertarian-like results are purely coincidental.

      1. Despite the whinging of anarchists, America First policies are libertarian. Government of, by, and for the People.

        If you don’t think US policies should be *for* the interests of Americans, who do you think they should be for?

  9. So what if they over promised? It’s not like if they had promised the amount produced to the precise number, they wouldn’t have been criticized for something like not producing enough test kits. The media hates Trump, whatever he does will be portrayed as insufficient, stupid, or wrong.

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  11. “Right now, I am betting that it is likely to be no worse than a particularly bad flu season, with a case-fatality rate somewhere between 0.2 and 0.5 percent. That’s not great, but it’s not apocalyptic.”

    This is not a rational opinion Bailey. You are falling for the normalcy bias. First, almost every authority is stating the CFR is in the 2-3 range. That’s ultimately an estimate, but it seems unlikely that it’s off by an Order of magnitude.

    Also, have you looked at the 2009 swine flu pandemic as a comparison?

    In the 2009 Swine flu epidemic, the US had:

    “As of mid-March 2010, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that about 59 million Americans contracted the H1N1 virus, 265,000 were hospitalized as a result, and 12,000 died.”

    Link here…

    Covid19 has both a higher infectious rate (R2-3 vs R1.4-1.6) and a much higher fatality rate (2-3 vs 0.01-0.08).

    Links here…

    What is the argument that the US will do much better today fighting the coronavirus (which is objectively much more dangerous) than it did with the Swine flu?

    NOTE: Pasted without Links so it’s not in moderation purgatory.

    1. Nice.

      I dub thee Science Correspondent of the Reason Comments Section, where the real journalism at Reason occurs.

    2. “NOTE: Pasted without Links so it’s not in moderation purgatory.”

      I think you only get moderation purgatory for 2 or more links.

  12. Ronald Bailey is now offering his guesses as to how dangerous the coronavirus is. He really should come to grip with the fact that his opinions do not matter. He should stop pretending that he is qualified to opine about technical matters that are beyond his knowledge. He pretends to understand “climate change,” and now pretends to have insights into the coronavirus. What next, will he be offering opinions about the big bang theory?

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