Regulation vs. Testing

Tuesday, December 01, 2020

The prestigious scientific journal Nature offers what is at once an inspiring look at how science is holding off an epidemic -- and a damning (albeit incidental) indictment of the regulatory state.

Iceland is open to tourists. (Image by Nicolas J Leclercq, via Unsplash, license.)
A century [after the Spanish flu pandemic], the Icelandic government was better prepared, enacting a national pandemic preparedness plan at the beginning of January, two months before COVID-19 arrived. "We decided from the beginning we would use isolation, quarantine and contact tracing," says Þórólfur Guðnason, chief epidemiologist at the Directorate of Health. As part of that plan, the microbiology laboratory at the university hospital began testing citizens in early February. [bold added]
Does any of that sound familiar?

Of particular note in the article is the matter of testing, which has been a national disgrace in America, but not just for the reason most commonly supposed (and supplied by the article), a lack of federal leadership:
[E]arly in the pandemic, many US labs pivoted to offer coronavirus testing, but were stymied by regulatory and administrative obstacles...
And we're not talking about rapid antigen tests, which could still stop the pandemic in its tracks by allowing people to know whether they might be contagious, but the diagnostic ones, which have also been hindered by the FDA.

A common theme I have noticed among countries that have best weathered this storm has been a willingness to learn from history: South Korea from a MERS outbreak, Taiwan from SARS, and now Iceland. America must follow suit, both in terms of fundamentally questioning its medical regulatory apparatus in general and having a better plan in place for the next pandemic in particular. There's even time to improve before the vaccines start rolling out -- by getting the government out of the way of contagiousness testing as soon as possible.

In the meantime, Iceland's superior testing has saved lives and is helping scientists forge ahead on such highly relevant topics as viral load and super-spreading.

-- CAV

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