Editorial: Let’s spend more money on virus testing in Douglas County

photo by: Journal-World Photo Illustration

Lawrence Journal-World Editorial

There are a lot of mixed messages nationally on the subject of COVID-19 testing.

On one hand, you have the country’s “testing czar” and other top health officials telling Congress last week that testing is the key to battling the disease and that we need to test as many people as possible.

On the other hand, you have President Donald Trump telling a rally that he believes we ought to slow down the rate of testing so that we end up with fewer positive cases. (Wouldn’t it be easier to just ban the use of the word “COVID,” and then we would have none? The president must be losing it if he hasn’t thought of that.) Aides said he was just kidding about reducing testing, only to have the president declare he doesn’t kid.

The good news is, Douglas County doesn’t have to wait for Bizarro World to right itself. The county can take charge of its own testing destiny. That realization struck some county residents when the county said it is expecting to receive $21 million to $24 million of federal funding for coronavirus relief. That type of money seemingly would eliminate the financial barriers that existed for mass testing in the county.

But other barriers may still exist. It was surprising to read some of the generally negative thoughts of county health experts last Sunday when the Journal-World reported on whether there were any local plans to do broader testing programs of the general public, which have happened in places like Johnson County and in many locations in Missouri.

There is no need to be overly critical of those health leaders and their views on the subject currently. Douglas County has been well served by excellent service from our health department thus far. But hopefully local experts will continue to give thought on how to greatly increase testing in the county. There would seem to be several benefits:

• It is true testing won’t give you complete confidence you don’t have the disease. You could get it the day after you get the test, or maybe it was still incubating in you at the time of the test. Regardless, a negative test does give you better information to work with as you live your life. A negative test essentially provides reasonable confidence that you did not catch the disease through any the contacts you made 14 days or more before your test. (The upper limit of COVID’s incubation period is thought to be 14 days.) That knowledge eliminated likely hundreds of contacts. It leaves you considering hopefully a far smaller number of contacts you’ve had since that time. We play the odds in this world, and good information helps you calculate them. If you feel like you have to visit a high-risk person — maybe a parent or grandparent — the odds would tell you to go right after your negative test result rather than weeks later.

• Finding every person with the disease really matters because it can spread exponentially. Countries that have had the best success in fighting this have placed a high priority on finding every last case. You can’t do that without much greater testing.

• Not everyone is going to act as responsibly as health officials would hope. Social distancing, mask wearing and avoiding unnecessary contacts are still the best ways to combat this disease. But some people are going to go out when it really isn’t necessary. Some of those people will have the disease and not know it. Numbers go up, like they are doing in Douglas County. Hopefully, if people know they have the disease, they actually will change their behavior. For that to happen, more testing is needed.

Douglas County certainly shouldn’t be spending all of its $21 million to $24 million in federal funds on testing. There are many needs for that money. But hopefully, area leaders will give much thought to how much they should spend to create a significantly more aggressive testing program in the county.

For months the White House was roundly criticized for not having an adequate testing program in place for the country. Douglas County doesn’t have the power to change that national situation, but it has an ability to improve its own. Let’s together figure out how to do so.


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