Views from Kansas: Aggressively test Kansans

Editor’s Note: Views from Kansas is a regular feature that highlights editorials and other viewpoints from across the state.

A biochemistry professor at Kansas State University has exactly the right idea: Kansas should aggressively test as many people as possible for the coronavirus.

In a recent letter to the editor, Sally Newton suggested that our state could prove to the rest of the country that this is the way to stop a viral pandemic.

Kansas is not that big, relatively speaking, with a population of 2.9 million people, about a third the size of New York City. The number of confirmed cases (as of Tuesday) was going on 900; in New York, there are around 130,000 confirmed cases.

About 8,300 people in Kansas had been tested as of Monday evening.

Authorities have doled out the tests in a miserly manner in our state, and in the U.S. generally, because of short supplies. We can’t blame local authorities for setting priorities in testing. It is an enormous failure on the part of the federal government.

Other countries are taking a far more aggressive approach: In Germany, they’re testing 500,000 people a week, and they’re looking to ramp up to 200,000 per day. England is aiming for 25,000 people a day by the end of April. Sweden and Austria are at 15,000 tests per day.

The consequence of a lack of testing in the U.S. has been that governments have to shut down everything in order to keep everybody away from each other. “Social distancing” is a logical response, under those circumstances, in order to keep from overwhelming the health care system. People have to do their part by following those rules, and nothing we’re saying here is intended to undermine that. In other words, stay home. It’s our best shot right now.

But it’s not ideal. Shuttered businesses mean lost jobs, among other things.

In Kansas, we could pretty much test everybody if the right people and political forces got behind it. Newton, the K-State biochemistry professor, said in the letter we published recently that it could be called “the Kansas Experiment,” and that could show the rest of the country that it’s the way to move forward.

Mass testing could allow us to quarantine people who actually have the virus or who’ve been in contact with people carrying it. That would prevent infected people who don’t yet show symptoms from giving it to others. It could also shorten the duration of “social distancing,” if done right.

— Originally published in The Manhattan Mercury

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