“Stop testing.”

They started testing for SARS-CoV-2 in Seattle, with one researcher, Helen Chu, leading the way. They started getting positive hits, and then the federal government stepped in, but not to anyone’s benefit.

The state laboratory, finally able to begin testing, confirmed the result the next morning. The teenager, who had recovered from his illness, was located and informed just after he entered his school building. He was sent home and the school was later closed as a precaution.

Later that day, the investigators and Seattle health officials gathered with representatives of the C.D.C. and the F.D.A. to discuss what happened. The message from the federal government was blunt. “What they said on that phone call very clearly was cease and desist to Helen Chu,” Dr. Lindquist remembered. “Stop testing.”

I found that shocking. Stop collecting information, stop responding to patient concerns, minimize the threat. This is not what I want the government to do.

On a phone call the day after the C.D.C. and F.D.A. had told Dr. Chu to stop, officials relented, but only partially, the researchers recalled. They would allow the study’s laboratories to test cases and report the results only in future samples. They would need to use a new consent form that explicitly mentioned that results of the coronavirus tests might be shared with the local health department.

They were not to test the thousands of samples that had already been collected.

While I sympathize with privacy concerns, this is a situation where public health ought to have priority. Being diagnosed with COVID-19 does not create a permanent stigma. It guides the appropriate response to the affected individual.

Especially since this is what’s happening:

In the days since the teenager’s test, the Seattle region has spun into crisis, with dozens of people testing positive and at least 22 dying — many of them infected in a nursing home that had unknowingly been suffering casualties since Feb. 19.

My mother lives in that area, she’s a few years older than I am (just a few), and she’s already had a few respiratory episodes that required temporary hospitalization. When I talked to her the other day, she’s self-quarantining and avoiding going out in public at all…but I feel like if there were a problem, she wouldn’t get the help she would need, but instead is going to be told to shut up.


  1. F.O. says

    I found that shocking. Stop collecting information, stop responding to patient concerns, minimize the threat. This is not what I want the government to do.

    This is what Iran did too.

  2. Pierce R. Butler says

    Stop collecting information…

    Never let it not be said that the Trump™ regime stands firmly for ignorance in all forms.

  3. whywhywhy says

    What do these folks not get?
    Hiding the knowledge of who is infected will only increase the spread of the disease and increase the likelihood of overwhelming our hospitals thus causing more death.
    What is the benefit? Any short term benefit for the stock market is going to be obliterated by the longer term consequences.

  4. Dunc says

    What is the benefit? Any short term benefit for the stock market is going to be obliterated by the longer term consequences.

    Yes, but a short window of delay gives those with the inside track time to sell, so avoiding the worst of the losses. Then they can buy it all back again at rock-bottom prices later.

  5. petesh says

    I am 71, with a longstanding (manageable) auto-immune disorder. As a high-risk individual, I should be being bombarded with warnings from our national government. Instead, I hear that guy pretending that nothing much is wrong and it will all get better when the weather warms up. This is an unconscionable dereliction of duty.

    Fortunately, I am neither uninformed nor stupid. I had a ticket to a gig tonight that I wanted to see, Shooter Jennings at my favorite small venue. I gave it away on Monday to a youth who upgraded my interwebtube access. Yesterday I heard that two cases had been diagnosed in my county. It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that my government is trying to kill me. I don’t care how mediocre the replacement might be, Trump has gotta go.

  6. aspleen says

    I talked this morning with my elderly mother in Florida, and she’s expecting to be a shut in soon. She lives in an assisted living apartment so she has some support and she has stocked up on some food and other supplies at least. As I expect hospitals to be overwhelmed there given the large population of elderly people in Florida, I hope she doesn’t otherwise get sick or require medical attention. I’d fly down but for now that’s not advisable I know.

  7. numerobis says

    It’s becoming clear that there was not just incompetence but high-level attempts at a cover-up.

  8. jrkrideau says

    Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad.

    The US Gov’t seems do be sinking into total gibbering dementia.


    Then, I just read a post at Viable Opposition entitled The Growing Threat of Nuclear War With Russia – America’s Flexible First-Use of Nuclear Weapons

    Is there any area in the US Gov’t where sanity prevails?

    Re COVID-19, I think our governments, Canadian and provincial/territorial, have been a bit slow in gearing up but there does seem to be some sensible and coordinated work.

    For example Some paramedics in Ontario and Alberta have begun offering in-home testing as a way of reducing the risk of spreading the virus in crowded health centres. and the Public Health Ontario Laboratory expected to be able to handle up to 1,000 tests per ( by last weekend?) . Don’t know if they have reached it but they also say that they expect that “Eventually, …expects the lab will shift its focus from performing tests to helping hospitals conduct their own.”

    It is still going to be a %$#-show and I doubt that we , like the USA, have any spare capacity in the health care system.

    Here in Ontario our idiot Premier Rob Ford and his merry band of nut cases and sociopaths have not quite managed to gut the healthcare system, though they seem to be trying.

    Yesterday’s stats /
    Areas in Canada with cases of COVID-19 as of March 10, 2020
    are not good and the news says Ottawa got its first confirmed case today. Nothing in my town yet but we have large mobile university and military populations so any time now.

    Ah, 12:30 CBC News announces that WHO has proclaimed a pandemic while the PM announces a CDN$9 billion fund plus some kind of plans–not finalized?—for income support via Employment Insurance and some still vague plan to provide income support for people not covered by EI.

  9. jrkrideau says

    @ 8 numerobis
    And incompetent “high-level attempts at a cover-up”.

    I get the feeling that most of the key members in the Trump regime could not organize a piss-up in a brewery.

    I am cursed with Doug Ford as Premier but even his incompetence and probable corruption pales in comparison.

    The head of the CDC is frankly terrifying!

  10. jrkrideau says

    @ 11 Intransitive
    stupidity or a desire for the disease to spread

    When in doubt assume stupidity—with a healthy dash of ignorance thrown in. The various policy-setting people/units in the US regime seem to be flopping around like a chicken with its head cut off.

    Trump seems to have assembled the most incompetent, crooked, fanatical, set of cabinet members and advisors ever seen in the USA. They in turn seem to have purged their departments of any one who might not be 100% loyal to Trump, thus losing all sorts of expertise and institutional memory.

    They do not seem to be able to visualize what a pandemic can do and, quite frankly, I think some warped feelings of American Exceptionalism, crazy religious beliefs and class privilege make them think it cannot happen in America and even if it does it will only affect the proles/heathens/unbelievers.

    BTW did you notice that / Britain’s junior health minister Nadine Dorries has become the first MP to be diagnosed with the new coronavirus? This may help concentrate the minds of some UK cabinet ministers.

  11. katahdin says

    I called the national hotline and was told that one of the criteria for testing is that you had to have traveled recently out of the country to a high risk area. This is ridiculous.

  12. raven says

    Latest headline.
    I’m almost speechless and this is a written media.

    Exclusive: White House told federal health agency to classify coronavirus deliberations – sources
    Reuters By Aram Roston and Marisa Taylor March 11, 2020
    By Aram Roston and Marisa Taylor

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House has ordered federal health officials to treat top-level coronavirus meetings as classified, an unusual step that has restricted information and hampered the U.S. government’s response to the contagion, according to four Trump administration officials….

    Everyone knows this is the worst thing you can do in a pandemic.
    The Chinese tried it at first, it was a huge disaster, and they quickly decided being transparent was the way to go.
    When this is all over, it will be a case study on how the US government and the CDC dropped the ball and people died because of it.

  13. ardipithecus says

    The ball was taken away from the CDC so the guv could:

    “Nothing to see here, nothing to see. Move along. Move along. Nothing to see here.”

  14. robro says

    If you want an explanation for Trump and his team of bozos dissembling about the virus, just keep Tuesday, November 3 in mind. They’re all about getting reelected, both the president and Congress, at the national and state level. Anyone who suffers because they are suppressing bad news be damned. Besides, they’re well on their way to saving unborn babies…so it must be a good thing, right.

  15. jrkrideau says

    @ 14 imback
    And this is the Gov’t that seemed to be moaning about the lack of transparency of and difficulty of getting information from the People’s Republic of China?

    We had some very critical people who did not have security clearances who could not go

    They really are gibbering crazy.

  16. unclefrogy says

    I will declare here that these people who make up the current administration are insane.
    they are actively denying reality and continue to act irrationally. It is part of the source of their power. the con requires that the marks be told what they want to hear and the marks want to believe it.
    One of the most important things for a con and authoritarian government is the control of information. it is the first thing to nationalize the very thing that needs to be sold to distrust. The con is fed by greed and along with fear so is authoritarianism . it all falls apart when reality gets
    here is an article about the events in China that I read a few days ago that is relevant to my thinking.

    the sad part is I think our leadership wants to believe the lies as well and things are going to half to get worse.
    few establish in power want to really know what is actually going on or how any of it works generally I am including all parties in this it seems to be a very common trait in humans and always causes problems.
    I am not encouraged by that thought.
    uncle frogy

  17. says

    Why would anybody believe that warmer weather would halt the coronavirus? Correct me if I’m wrong, but Iran — which has real problems with it — is warmer than most of the northern US. (Tehran, which is to the north, barely gets any freezing temperatures at all, even in the middle of winter; even in January the average daily high temperature is 7°C/45°F. I grew up in Chicago, and that’s weather to go out and take a walk in, during the winter!)

  18. Pierce R. Butler says

    The Vicar … @ # 22: Why would anybody believe that warmer weather would halt the coronavirus?

    The regular flu season, a mostly-winter phenomenon, typically peaks in February in the northern hemisphere.

  19. Ridana says

    One reason to restrict testing is to try to contain the demand for it until the company Twittler has a financial stake in can ramp up production to provide all the tests. At that point, once major bucks can be reaped, they’ll make testing of everyone mandatory, symptoms or no, probably long after this has passed.

    It’s in the 70s here, and 80s across the country in Miami. We’re still getting new cases. Spring is here. This ain’t going away in the Spring.

    In the meantime, keep holding your rallies Trumpistas. Nothing says votes like killing off all your constituents!

  20. blf says

    Why would anybody believe that warmer weather would halt the coronavirus?

    There was an article / report on this very point in either today’s NYT or Grauniad (I don’t recall which). Paraphrasing from memory, Viruses such as the seasonal flu or common cold are not novel, or more to the point, a substantial proportion of the population is resistant if not immune. Hence, other factors, such as lowered immunity during cold weather, allows them to spread during the winter. Come warmer weather, and the general resistance / immunity kicks in, so flu and the common cold are infrequent — until next winter.

    However (continuing my paraphrase from memory), the key point is the flu and common cold are not novel — evolved / different from year-to-year, but “similar”, and so there is some resistance / immunity. Not so much with novel virus. Hence, extrapolating from the observed seasonal flu / cold behaviour to, e.g., Covid-19, is, as you imply, stupid.

    And, as an aside, it can get quite cold in Iran. For instance, at the moment, it is apparently c.9℃ in Tehran, colder, than it happens, where I am in S.France.

  21. says

    A physician I know in Seattle is currently self-quarantining. No, there’s no diagnosis, but he came into contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. When he tried to get tested he was told he didn’t fit the requirements for being tested. It’s simply a way for the Trump regime to reduce the official number of cases and endanger the lives of everyone.

  22. chrislawson says


    The flu season peaking in winter has very little to do with immune vulnerability. It’s mostly due to people staying indoors in small shared spaces.

  23. chrislawson says

    Formless Spawn@27–

    To be fair, there is limited testing capacity for COVID-19, so unless you have a cough or fever, there is little point in getting tested.

  24. KG says

    there is limited testing capacity for COVID-19 – chrislawson@29

    That’s because the CDC decided to develop its own test rather than use the perfectly good one developed in Berlin and available from WHO – and then their initial test turned out to be faulty, so they had to revamp it. South Korea (which also developed its own test, but considerably earlier) is testing more people per day than the USA has tested in total. Wikipedia has a list of numbers of tests by country.

  25. blf says

    chrislawson@28, Thanks for the correction / clarification !

    The article I was trying to paraphrase from memory in @25 is in the Grauniad, Will spring slow spread of coronavirus in northern hemisphere? In addition to your very valid point about being indoors in small / crowded spaces, the article also notes:

    In the world’s temperate regions seasonal flu and the “common cold” coronaviruses tend to spread more readily in winter. That may be because the air in the colder months is generally drier, both indoors and out, and dry conditions have been shown to favour flu transmission. Our immune systems are, on average, weaker in winter too — possibly due to less sunlight and lower vitamin D levels.

    That was the bit I garbled in @25, as well as totally forgetting the indoor angle.

  26. Jazzlet says

    Another reason for more spread in winter maybe that there is evidence that cold noses are less good at resisting the ingress of viruses. Like many things biological there is likely no One True Reason, but a collection of reasons that add up to flu and colds spreading more easily in winter.

  27. says

    I saw that Chu’s study had been unrelated to COVID19 and started much earlier so therefore her testing of older samples would show the COVID19 infections started much sooner than other data and therefore would be one more piece of evidence about how horrible the testing mess has been, so it’s CYA for the D(th)umpser. Also a type of machine being used for COVID testing in Europe are already in US and being used for other testing but FDA won’t approve for COVID testing here. Someday we’ll find out the testing screwups go beyond bureaucratic mess and somehow the Trump Crime Family has a financial interest in the flawed testing CDC pushed and FDA is defending.

  28. Jazzlet says

    Even if there is no profiteering involved showing COVID-19 was around that much earlier will screw up the nasty FOREIGN’ narrative Trump has been pushing.

  29. says

    While our government(s) are morons who keep reacting instead of acting, the USA are making them look very competent in comparison. Trump probably did US a favour by shutting down flights.
    22 dead in a single facility is 4 times the total number of deaths in Germany so far and you are a few days behind us.

    Personally I am worried a but my mum, who is currently cross with me for cancelling any face to face contact until further notice. “Do you think I have Corona or what?”
    No, mum, but I work in a school that is 500m from France an outbreak area and up until tomorrow the kids who live in France were still coming to school.
    I’m basically waiting for the schools to close down, more and more do so, but only after positive cases, which is stupid, if you ask me.

  30. blf says

    Giliell@35, Macron is speaking now, and has just announced that, starting Monday, French schools will be closed…

  31. says

    Dr. Brian Monahan, physician of the US congress and supreme court,
    estimates 75-150 million infections are coming.

    Let’s assume infections are on the low end, 80 million, and that the infected:death ratio improves from 30:1 to 40:1. That still means approximately two million deaths in the US over the next 1-2 years.

    The anti-vaxxer mentality has brought the chicken pox home to roost.

  32. says

    Yeah, Austria as well. We, otoh, will keep open to offer “quality education”. Until we get our first case, of course. In that case the individual school has made a mistake.

  33. chrislawson says


    Please don’t take my comment as an overall defence of the US response to COVID-19. All I’m saying is that low-risk people should NOT be getting tested right now. The resource limits are not just in term of testing kits. There are also limited facilities to do the testing and pathology collectors to take the samples. Currently our local path collection sites are overwhelmed with people getting tested to the point where people with non-COVID-19 related problems are struggling to get their tests.

  34. chrislawson says


    I’m usually happy to stick it to anti-vaxxers, but I can’t really hold them accountable for what’s been happening with COVID-19 thus far.

  35. KG says


    Thanks – good points. But how is it that South Korea has been able to test so many more? (Genuine question, I don’t know the answer.)