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SGV Tribune

Over-regulation and coronavirus testing delays

Thankfully our resident is pushing past the limitations of previous regulations and creating possibilities of progress for now and for the future.

As China begins to reopen for business and people there are resuming their lives, the rest of the world is still drowning in the destructive wake of the COVID-19 global pandemic which originated in Wuhan.

Now is the time for action to protect lives, and reaction to provide economic support. It is not time to start placing blame yet, but President Trump has already signaled that there clearly is blame to be placed. When the time comes and the crisis has passed, he will be addressing China and its responsibility for this world-wide catastrophe. We haven’t heard the last of this. Trump’s memory is long — he won’t forget. President Xi Jinping has been put on notice.

Yet beyond the Chinese blame game, is there some blame to be placed here at home too? I believe there is.

Decades of stifling government rules and regulations have left our country ill-prepared to take the sort of decisive action necessary to deal with this once-in-a-century threat. This bureaucratic sclerosis has been particularly problematic when it comes to one of the most basic steps: identifying patients who have contracted the virus.

Widespread testing is crucial to developing an effective national strategy for fighting the novel coronavirus pandemic, but the U.S. healthcare system is not designed to cope with a pandemic. The bureaucratic red tape that exists in the name of keeping us safe, suddenly became a mortal threat as state and local public health laboratories tried to roll out tests on a national scale, and couldn’t. The initial tests processed by the Centers for Disease Control encountered technical issues. Moreover, because of the frequently asymptomatic nature of the virus, many cases continue to go unnoticed, contributing to inaccurate and potentially misleading data.

We’ve also had to contend with unreliable information coming from countries such as China and Iran, both which appear to have covered up the severity of their outbreaks. The Chinese government, for instance, had information about the virus long before any other country, but tried very hard to keep the news from leaking, even silencing the doctors and journalists who blew the whistle on it. They were more intent on stopping the spread of the story than stopping the spread of the virus. Their delay was a tragic and deadly one for the world, and is without excuse.

Additionally, in order to make accurate and reliable COVID-19 tests, labs need samples of the virus itself. But in the early days of the novel coronavirus, when it was still only in labs in China, the Chinese government did not allow samples to be shipped across its borders. Even after the virus did make its way into labs outside of China, there were additional obstacles, mainly regulatory.

The novel coronavirus test, at least the preliminary version of it, required specialized lab equipment to process, limiting the number of labs capable of conducting in-house testing until a simpler version of the test could be developed. President Trump interceded to expedite this process by granting states permission from the FDA to allow laboratories to develop and distribute their own variation of the test, ensuring the bureaucratic approval process didn’t impede the availability of COVID-19 tests for those who need it.

Similarly, the president waived a regulation that required all test kits to be sent to the CDC for verification, a requirement that significantly prolonged the process and introduced unnecessary complexity. Returning authority and responsibility to the states, with close federal oversight, the testing and verification process has become more efficient and expedient.

As a result, we were able to quickly ramp up the number of tests processed each day, from just under 300 on March 1 to more than 10,000 on March 16.

In light of the myriad pre-existing obstacles, it is remarkable how quickly the Trump administration has managed to overcome so many regulatory barriers in order to make an effective coronavirus test widely available to the American public. Thankfully, President Trump and his team have spent the past three years identifying and eliminating hundreds of outdated and overbearing federal regulations that have been holding America back so were experienced in knowing how to make this happen.

Relying heavily on public-private partnerships, President Trump has unleashed the ingenuity, creativity, generosity, and problem-solving capacity of America’s top corporations. His commitment to getting government out of the way and allowing American ingenuity to flourish has not only cleared the path to rush test kits and other much-needed resources to places with the greatest need, but is mobilizing all of government, including our nation’s brave military, to lend support. Undoubtedly this empowerment will expedite the identification of effective treatments and eventually lead to a preventative vaccine — and maybe even a cure altogether.

President Ronald Reagan said, “The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things.”

In the midst of this devastating global crisis, we are not only seeing what true leadership looks like coming out of our White House, but are witnessing the beautiful mosaic of scientific, sacrificial, brave, and bold contributions being made by Americans at the front lines of care, in the labs of treatment, in essential service areas, and from the homes of those who are giving up so much for the greater good.

Thankfully our resident is pushing past the limitations of previous regulations and creating possibilities of progress for now and for the future.

Peggy Grande is author of, “The President Will See You Now: My Stories and Lessons from Ronald Reagan’s Final Years”, a keynote speaker, political consultant and international media contributor. She was the executive assistant to President Ronald Reagan from 1989 to 1999. Follow her on Twitter @peggy_grande.