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Opinion
Noah Smith

Offshoring Left the U.S. Unprepared for Coronavirus

Supply chains created to boost profits led to production of masks and swabs overseas. Wonder why there’s a shortage now?   

Maybe things will improve if we have, oh, a few million more of these.

Maybe things will improve if we have, oh, a few million more of these.

Photographer: John Moore/Getty Images North America

The U.S. is still not doing enough coronavirus testing. South Korea, famous for its success in containing the virus, does about 10,000 to 18,000 tests a day, which is 200 to 350 tests per million people. Despite recent increases, the U.S. is only at the lower range of that level in per capita terms:

At first, the failure to ramp up testing came from federal agencies. The Food and Drug Administration failed to approve most tests, allowing only a single product developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. When the CDC bungled the rollout of that test, the U.S. lost crucial weeks in the fight. Eventually, the FDA approved a broad range of tests, including from private companies, alleviating the shortage. As a result, testing rose from insignificant levels two weeks ago to the mediocre level they’re at now.