Politicians Need to Stop Weaponizing Testing
Testing is a means to an end — an actual response to the pandemic
On several occasions, President Trump has made the claim that we have more cases because we are testing more, and has gone as far as to “joke” that we should stop testing so many people. Ohio representative Nino Vitale made similar claims recently, telling his constituents to literally stop getting tested. What these politicians, either knowingly or unknowingly, are missing is that testing is not an end in itself. It is a key part of our larger Covid-19 response. Rather than acknowledging this, they are instead weaponizing testing as a political tool by which to hide the incompetencies of the current response.
Testing is critical for a number of reasons — the first being its role in contact tracing and isolating. We don’t test to simply test — we do so to isolate and/or treat the index case, trace their contacts, quarantine those people accordingly, and stop chains of transmission. Why the administration is failing to clearly acknowledge this pillar of the response is beyond comprehension.
A second key role of testing is for community surveillance to detect new outbreaks. As states reopen, having community-level data on the rates of new Covid-19 cases through regular testing will allow public health departments to quickly figure out where transmission is coming from to double down efforts accordingly by geography or where clusters are coming from.
Trump and others who are against expanding testing seem to be most concerned that more tests mean that it looks like we have more cases compared to other countries and that this makes them look bad politically.
We need to get absolutely clear on this point: Testing less does not mean we have fewer cases — it just means we are not detecting those cases. Those are still people who are sick with Covid-19. Those are still people who are transmitting to other people. Those are still patients who will eventually get sicker, may need a hospital bed, and possibly a ventilator. The administration’s denial of how critical it is to increase testing is nothing short of dangerous negligence.
And the upshot is that they are doing poorly politically because they have failed to mount a unified national response to this epidemic. Six months in, the fact that a piece needs to be written to clarify why testing is so important is a sign of that in itself.