Why We Don’t Have Enough Coronavirus Tests

A daily Covid-19 update from Andy Slavitt, former head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services

Andy Slavitt
Medium Coronavirus Blog
5 min readMar 25, 2020


Sebastian Kahnert/picture alliance via Getty Images

Pulled from my daily COVID-19 updates on Twitter

Tonight’s update is based on calls with the White House, the Senate, testing companies, hospitals in Seattle, and people who have launched new capabilities. Also much talk about avoiding #StayHome too early without tanking the economy.

Let me start with the testing situation. Why does South Korea have so many available tests and we don’t? What’s the hold up? That was the first half of my day. The vast majority of tests come from big commercial labs. 5,000/day is a big lab. There are also smaller labs, state labs, and hospital labs who make tests mostly for their employees. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now saying only front-line health care workers and first responders should gets tests.

The commercial labs have increased from about 8,000 to 50,000/day. And if you add the non-commercial, maybe that’s 60,000? Progress, but if we want to test anyone with symptoms and test them before and after, that’s way short for a virus doubling every 3 days.

How many more could they make? The biggest can get close to 50,000/day on their own so maybe the number goes up to 75,000 or 100,000. Still not enough. To answer why I had to go deep. People throw all kinds of numbers around. Number of kits, number of tests, produced, administered. Makes it easy to spin what you want. The truth is CDC could have gotten started earlier & done better but here we are.

There’s a shortage of swabs and reagents for test kits. But apparently the labs say they are getting more of those in. What’s constraining them are the giant “Liquid Handling Robots.” The biggest maker of these robots is a company called Roche. Their monster robot is called the 6800. It can process the most tests. Other robot makers are; ThermoFisher, Abbott, and Helogic. So I asked why can’t we make more robots? How many are there?