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The Latest Covid Testing Sabotage

Photograph Source: The National Guard – CC BY 2.0

On August 20, the Trump regime prohibited the FDA from regulating Covid-19 tests. This could cause bad tests and false results, as was possibly the purpose of the order. What better way to undermine faith in tests or to disappear covid than to have everyone test negative for it? If this sounds too conspiratorial to you, remember we have a president who says if we don’t test for this plague, then the numbers of cases will decline.

In another surprising move, six days later, the CDC revised its testing guidelines. Huffington Post reported that the new regs would “say that people without symptoms do not need to be tested even if they have been in close contact with someone who tested positive.” While this will reduce the reported infection rate, pleasing Trump, it could actually increase the spread of the disease, because asymptomatic people won’t know they have it and therefore won’t take precautions to avoid infecting others. Experts estimate that 40 percent of transmission is caused by asymptomatic infected people. Though the CDC later walked back these new guidelines due to a public uproar, it did not change them on its website.

“The agency’s revised guidelines go against public health experts’ consensus…” wrote Huffington Post. “That is why experts have recommended widespread testing as a crucial element in containing the disease.” Indeed, the governors of California, Washington and New York said they will not follow the new CDC guidelines. Washington governor Jay Inslee said it would lead to missing “thousands of new cases and allow the virus to spread in our communities.” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said: “We’re not going to follow the CDC guidance. I consider it political propaganda.”

So this is yet another of several very odd official moves regarding covid testing. Odd in the sense of anti-public health and unscientific. Odd in the sense that these changes will increase the contagion’s spread, at a time when the U.S. is the world’s epicenter of the pandemic, because it has dealt with covid more incompetently than any other government on the globe. But, as the Washington Post reported August 30, these moves are of a piece with the “herd immunity” approach of one of Trump’s top medical advisers, Scott Atlas. Unfortunately, herd immunity – when enough people have had the disease and become immune to stop viral spread – means lots of covid deaths. In the U.S, that would be millions. Sweden tried it and has one of the highest death rates in the world. And it still didn’t save their economy, because people took matters into their own hands and stayed home to avoid infection.

The Post reported that Atlas denied the push for herd immunity, when its story broke. As well he might, since herd immunity might not work with a disease like covid that can apparently re-infect people. Also, the most knowledgeable doctors about pandemics, epidemiologists, are against it. But if Trump reduces testing, that conceals how herd immunity would accelerate covid’s rate of spread.

So the purpose of these testing moves is clear. Remember, Trump famously said: “When you do testing to that extent, you’re going to find more people. You’re going to find more cases. So I said to my people ‘slow the testing down, please.’” One government doctor, Kavita Patel, told Raw Story that not testing asymptomatic people who’ve been in contact with others with covid “is ridiculous…It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that will make numbers lower, decrease daily count of the coronavirus.” Which is what Trump said he wants – lower numbers to conceal his regime’s incompetence. And now those lower numbers would hide a policy of actively letting the disease roar out of control.

Public health experts argued that prohibiting the FDA from regulating tests “is unlikely to solve current testing problems,” the Washington Post reported, “which at this point are largely due to shortages of supplies such as swabs and chemical reagents.” FDA commissioner Stephen Hahn opposed this move, which, predictably, Trump loyalist Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary Alex Azar supported.

Remember HHS was the agency charged with taking over covid reporting data from the CDC some months back – a move open to the interpretation that the Trump regime intended to suppress covid data. That didn’t work out too well, however. HHS contracted with a private firm, TeleTracker, to collect covid data, and TeleTracker signed a non-disclosure agreement with the Trump regime, rather like Trump’s girlfriends – as some senators discovered when that NDA barred them from getting information from TeleTracker. Ultimately the whole thing fell apart, and the data collection reverted back to the CDC.

Then on August 22, Trump tweeted that “the deep state, or whoever [in the FDA made] “it very difficult for drug companies to get people in order to test vaccines and therapeutics…they are hoping to delay the answer” until after the election. So here we have Trump, browbeating doctors and scientists for not rushing the testing regimen so that he can tout a vaccine before the election. No matter that that vaccine may not work. We can always just inject dumb Americans with bleach.

After this unprecedented presidential assault on the FDA, Trump went on TV on August 23 to announce a new pandemic treatment: plasma from the blood of recovered covid patients. No matter that plasma treatment has been around for decades; Trump takes credit for it now. Trump and his experts boasted it prevents 35 percent of covid deaths. Except it doesn’t. In fact, when called out about this inaccuracy, FDA head Hahn had to concede that that figure, 35 percent, was misleading. “What I should have said better,” Hahn corrected himself the next day “is that the data show a relative risk reduction, not an absolute risk reduction.” So an FDA spokesperson was fired over this, because a 35 percent reduction in mortality was a bum steer.

Which was precisely the point. The whole Trump temper tantrum over who’s in charge of testing and how it’s done aimed to get experts on national media claiming that the Trump regime had rushed through an effective cure. No matter that the numbers were false. Our dear leader had to be shown as doing something, after a half a year of nothing, while, most recently, covid burned through Trump country, racking up over 180,000 corpses.

Then came the coup de grace. On August 30 the FDA announced that it might short-circuit stage 3 trials and rush a vaccine to market before testing was done and before the election. China and Russia have done this, so why not the U.S.? Well, as the New York Times explained, there’s a risk called “enhancement.” “There is no way to hasten the production of antibodies in the human body,” the Times explained, “and researchers must be on guard for ‘antibody-dependent enhancement,’ in which a vaccine makes the recipient more susceptible to infection rather than less.” But if they rush a vaccine to market, how will they know if it causes enhancement? No matter, Trump needs a vaccine, before the election. It’s his October surprise.

What do these testing changes mean? In practice they mean that government medical organizations have given up on trying to stop the plague. But we knew this was coming. Trump gave up on that when he rushed to re-open the economy prematurely, a move that killed tens of thousands of people. It was evident again, when he hurried states to re-open schools, even when they weren’t ready. It was clear when he said he dislikes covid testing, because it makes him look bad. In fact, Trump gave up on controlling this plague way back when it started, when he called it a “Democratic hoax.”

So, in many ways, the people in Trump’s government have begun reducing testing. We are in the full-blown, post-science, post-medical phase, folks. And Trump is abandoning medical science out in plain sight. We’re in a world where a white house official, questioned about the lack of social distancing at the republican national convention, says that well, everyone is going to contract this disease sooner or later.

Nonsense. Not everyone in France is contracting it. Nor in China, Vietnam or South Korea. Not in places where they have a functioning government run by accountable public officials, instead of macho, right-wing, autocratic, incompetent fakes. But that’s what we’ve got with the Trump regime. Like the regimes in Brazil, the UK, India, Israel and Russia, when it comes to containing a pandemic, Trump is MIA. He can’t do it. The word from the top is we’ll let this pandemic rip till we get a vaccine. We’re going for herd immunity. And that means hundreds of thousands or millions of dead Americans.

 

Eve Ottenberg is a novelist and journalist. Her latest book is Birdbrain. She can be reached at her website.

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