Pickerill: A Government in the Way

April 10, 2020

by John Pickerill

U.S. government bureaucracy prevented the private sector from containing the coronavirus in America. And now, governments in the U.S. are attempting to clean up the mistake by violating our civil rights and economic freedom.

South Korea has proven a pandemic can be contained without these totalitarian measures. According to World Health Organization data, South Korea and the U.S. both reported their first case of coronavirus about the same time, Jan. 20 and Jan. 22 respectively.

South Korea reacted quickly. According to Reuters, Korean health authorities met with 20 medical companies on Jan. 27 requesting they make an effective test kit immediately and promising the companies quick regulatory approval. One week later they approved the first company’s test kit. Soon after they approved another, By the end of February, South Korea had drive-through testing centers in place and were testing thousands daily. Within seven weeks they had tested more than 270,000 and identified 8000 infections.

Then, by sharing results quickly and broadly, their people had the information they needed to voluntarily take action. Those infected self-quarantined. Those who tested negative knew they were safe to go back to work and school. “Testing is central because that leads to early detection. It minimizes further spread,” said Kang Kyung-wha, South Korea’s foreign minister, “And it allows health authorities to quickly treat those who have the virus. That’s the key behind our very low fatality rate.” Their government didn’t stop their economy or shutdown the country. Since early March they have contained their outbreak and have very few new infections, with their case rate stabilized at about 200 infections per million population.

Meanwhile in the U.S., our case rate at this writing is 730 infections per million population and climbing rapidly (as of the World Health Organization report on April 4. Two months after the disease was detected, many Americans still can’t get tested due to a limited supply of kits. U.S. labs only processed 352 tests in February, according to MarketWatch. On March18, Reuters reported that only 60,000 tests had been run by public and private labs combined. The U.S. had little idea of how many were infected or where they were concentrated.

So why haven’t we been able to contain the virus in the U.S.? According to investigative journalists Brett Murphy and Letitia Stein of USA Today, the responsibility lies clearly with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration. First, the CDC was supposed to develop the first coronavirus test permitted in the U.S. but  botched it badly. When it distributed its test kits to state labs in early February, those labs discovered the test kits were flawed and produced inconclusive results. The CDC promised to fix it quickly, but by the third week of February there was still no fix. In late February, labs were told they could now send samples to the CDC and have results within 24 hours. “That was a bald-faced lie,” said Dr. Debra Wadford, director of the public viral disease lab in California. At that point she was waiting four to five days on test results from the CDC.

Meanwhile, when public and private labs offered to help by developing their own tests, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) actually increased restrictions on them after the emergency was declared. On Feb 24, the Association for Public Laboratories pleaded with the FDA to lift restrictions on labs making their own tests. It wasn’t until Feb 29 that the FDA began rolling back those restrictions. “During those lost weeks in February, federal officials missed their chance to contain the outbreak before it swept across the country, unseen,” say Murphy and Stein.

Had the U.S. government simply taken South Korea’s approach in January and worked with labs and medical companies instead of against them, we could have quickly ramped up testing. Individual Americans would have had the information they needed back in February to avoid spreading the coronavirus. Americans testing negative would be back to work and school already.

And now, state governments are taking a totalitarian approach, commandeering entire sectors of the economy and shutting them down, prohibiting citizens from assembling in groups or leave our homes in what feels more and more like martial law. Exercising one’s religion has been suspended. Nowhere in the Constitution is government granted authority to do such things.

This remedy will be worse than the virus. Many businesses might never reopen. Over 10 million Americans filed for unemployment in March. The stock market has crashed harder than the Great Depression and taken retirement funds with it. The government’s answer is a $2 trillion “stimulus package” even though it is already $24 trillion in debt. How will it pay for it, especially since tax revenues have fallen drastically? The Federal Reserve is printing trillions of dollars which could very well trigger hyperinflation and destruction of the dollar and bond market. The federal government is starting to take control of private businesses through the so-call National Production Act.

Again, early testing could have avoided all this. Government got in the way of that and now we’re all suffering for its incompetence. The likely economic depression will have us all suffering for years to come.

John Pickerill, an engineer and adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation, recently moved from Indiana to Colorado. He advocates for individual liberty, free market economics, private property rights and constitutionally-limited government.



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