Former Top Health Officials: Do More Testing And Contact Tracing Or Expect Outbreaks | WGLT

Former Top Health Officials: Do More Testing And Contact Tracing Or Expect Outbreaks

May 11, 2020

States around the country are gradually reopening their economies, even as most of them fail to meet voluntary guidelines set by the White House for doing it safely.

At least 31 states are partially reopening as of Monday.

"The Trump administration has really not been following — and governors around the country generally — have not been following their own plan," says Andy Slavitt, the former acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services under President Obama.

Slavitt and former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, who served under President Trump, talked with Morning Edition's Steve Inskeep about federal and state reopening strategy. The two wrote to congressional leaders last month asking for funding for contact tracing and isolating infected people. Both Slavitt and Gottlieb have been advising current officials.

Here are selected excerpts:

Has the administration simply grown impatient with its own approach?

Gottlieb: [W]e all had an expectation that at this point we'd be seeing sustained declines in new cases if we put those measures into place, and we haven't seen that. And so the reality is we're opening against the backdrop of much more spread than what we anticipated. ...

And I think it just increases the importance of what we call the case-based interventions, trying to put in place measures to track down individual cases, do contact tracing, do case isolation of people who are infected. If we don't lean heavily on those interventions against a backdrop of a lot of spread right now and we reopen the economy in that environment, we're likely to see renewed outbreaks.

Do you see serious efforts even to try to get where you think you need to be in terms of testing, in terms of contact tracing, in terms of these interventions you just described?

Gottlieb: I'm more confident about the testing. I think that we're ramping testing aggressively, in part because new technology is coming into the market. We're doing about 2 million tests a week right now. We just saw the approval of the first antigen-based tests. That's going to bring about 1.5 million tests per week capacity into the market within the next several weeks. ...

I think when it comes to the case-based interventions that isn't as readily available because there's a lot of political debate around the utility of that. You see a lot of governors going forward. But at a national level, we really haven't embraced those in a robust way that I would like to see.

Isn't there a case to be made for a kind of creative reopening whenever a company can figure out how to avoid employees in a crowd?

Slavitt: I think so. Look, I think everybody is in what must feel to them like a no-win situation. And so I think we all should acknowledge that our governors are doing the best that they possibly can in a trade off that's really difficult to make. ...

So we should be patient with our governors, adjusting, tinkering, doing a little bit of trial and error. But, boy, it sure would be nice if when they were doing that, they could instantly test because the difference between learning after two days that you got it wrong and 10 days that you got it wrong is fairly dramatic.

Listen to the full interview here.

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