HOPEFULLY THE novel coronavirus, which has infected at least two people who work in the cramped warrens of the White House, will not spread there. Hopefully the measures being taken, including daily diagnostic testing, will contain it. But the genuine anxiety of President Trump’s team about their workplace underscores an important point. They know what needs to be done for themselves — diagnostic testing, contact tracing and isolating — but Mr. Trump has failed in his duty to provide it for the country.
The pandemic response demands a testing regimen that does not yet exist. According to the Covid Tracking Project, states are reporting about 300,000 tests a day, about a tenth of the 3 million or more a day that experts say is the minimum needed to begin to safely open workplaces again. Weeks ago, Mr. Trump should have embraced this as a uniquely federal responsibility, under the supervision of an experienced leader, a Manhattan Project for the pandemic age. Instead, he left the job to governors, and the nation is staggering under the consequences.
Mr. Trump and the “liberate” protesters portray a choice between opening and staying locked down, but that is false. Everyone understands the urgency of returning to work, schools, leisure and worship, but it must be done in a way that does not ignite a second wave. Until a vaccine or effective therapy arrives, that means segmenting the population by testing, and isolating and treating those who are sick as much as possible. The virus is dynamic, relentless and opportunistic. It will spread as long as people give it the means.
We have the technology but not the scale needed to test the whole population. If ever there were a job for the federal government, the singularly most powerful actor we can rely upon, this was it. Instead, we are now suffering with piecemeal efforts at diagnostic testing, while more than 20,000 new infections and about 2,000 deaths occur every day. What would it have taken for Mr. Trump to put testing kits in every workplace and school? We will never know, because he didn’t try. As Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, notes in an op-ed in The Post, smart reopening requires not orders from above but confidence from below. Without a massive expansion of testing, there can hardly be public confidence that public areas are safe.
The Food and Drug Administration is granting emergency-use authorization for new testing technology that includes the first to utilize the CRISPR tools for editing genetic material; another first that would detect antigens, protein fragments associated with the virus; and a third home test that would rely on saliva samples. Hopefully these gambles will pay off and companies will scale them up, but there are significant uncertainties. If only the United States had a leader setting a course for intelligent reopening.