The U.S. government’s inability — no, make that its refusal — to take charge of Covid-19 testing is a national disgrace, with profound consequences that will arrive soon. With pressure building to reopen the economy, the lack of meaningful testing means that states and their citizens are going to have to assume risks they can’t see.
The problem is not that there aren’t enough labs able to test for the coronavirus. Private labs, university labs, commercial labs — by now they all have workable protocols for diagnostic tests. Rather, the bottleneck is a severe shortage of materiel, starting with the simplest of tools: the nasopharyngeal swabs that are used to gather genetic material. Reagents — chemicals needed for Covid-19 testing — have also been in short supply.