Covid Reforms: Stay On Target
When making policy in the wake of this pandemic, we need to be laser focused on the lessons we've learned these last three years
The Washington Post recently ran this opinion piece from Amy Maxmen titled “These 7 radical changes would fortify the US against the next pandemic.” I believe we are in the very midst of a heated battle about what is going to happen the next time we see a novel pathogen and we need to be having the appropriate debates about what we should do if and when this happens again.
I want to go through Ms. Maxmen’s suggestions one by one. There are some compelling ideas in here, but it’s important to insist that any policy proscriptions be judged against the real-world effects of the pandemic and the data that we have on what did and did not work.
1. Put tests everywhere
Thankfully Maxmen notes the CDC and FDA’s early failure in testing, but she doesn’t address the core question: Did more testing result in better outcomes?
We’ve had millions (billions?) of COVID tests manufactures and administered over these past few years, but it is not at all clear that more testing results in lower rates of spread or hospitalization. The call for more tests assumes that ubiquitous testing is a good thing, but now is exactly the time to question our assumptions.
We need to back up and ask why we are testing and what we plan to do with the results of those tests. Are we using testing for personal knowledge? That’s a good thing. Are we using testing as a form of passport (i.e. requiring a negative test for entry into a workplace or event)? That’s a bad thing.
I’d like to see a more critical assessment of the purpose of testing, what we hope to accomplish with greater access to tests, and if we have any evidence that more testing accomplishes our core goals.