Pressure — from citizens to elected leaders — is mounting to get Washington back to business. But public-health officials warn that without enough testing capacity to rapidly identify and respond to COVID-19 infections, the state is in essentially the same spot as it was before social-distancing measures were implemented in the first place.
The economic cost of Gov. Jay Inslee’s Stay Home, Stay Healthy emergency order is painful, but the suggestion that communities can simply wing it, reopening business and public places with fingers crossed against future outbreaks, is wishful thinking.
Good hygiene practices and use of personal protective equipment can help slow the spread of coronavirus. But until a vaccine is developed, testing, isolation of the ill or vulnerable and surveillance must be the linchpin to any plan to safely relax social-distancing rules.
At the same time, disturbing questions remain about why securing the vital testing materials needed to protect us is taking so long.
In what has become a common refrain, state political leaders and public-health officials say the bottleneck is testing — citing the lack of adequate supply of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing to identify active infection, and the supplies and personal protective equipment like masks that are needed to safely test everyone exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19.
Three months after the first confirmed U.S. case was found in Snohomish County and more than a month after President Donald Trump declared a national state of emergency, Washington’s health providers still are rationing tests and struggling to procure basic supplies.
U.S. senators approved on Tuesday a sweeping aid package that would allocate $11 billion to states for testing, surveillance and tracing contacts of people found to be infected. An additional $14 billion would support federal research, development and deployment of tests. Congressional representatives should hasten the bill into law.
For their part, state leaders must be as frank and detailed as possible about their calculations for safely loosening the stay-at-home order. In many quarters, patience is wearing thin.