Infectious disease expert Michael Osterholm on Wednesday criticized the White House’s coronavirus testing protocol, saying it was not an example of smart testing and likening it to giving squirt guns to Secret Service agents to protect President Donald Trump.
Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, explained to CNN’s Anderson Cooper how testing for COVID-19 itself, while important, is not the end-all for slowing the spread of the contagion that has now killed almost 95,000 people nationwide.
Instead, Osterholm argued, it should be seen as part of a wider system of testing “the right person at the right time with the right result.”
“You have to understand that a test is not just a single thing that happens. You have to be testing the right population,” said Osterholm, who noted how “today, if I tested any citizen in the state of Minnesota for antibody, I’d probably find over half of them that have it, are false-positive antibodies, meaning that they don’t really have it.”
“If I’m testing certain groups that I need to have absolute certainty that I’ve screened out for the virus, like we just saw at the White House two weeks ago. Well, we know that test didn’t do that at all,” he continued. “Those are not examples of smart testing. So you want the right test for the right person at the right time with the right result.”
As an example of the “right result,” he noted how many auxiliary and drive-by clinics were unable to give the result of the test to people they were testing, and that health departments were not tracking the information.
“This has got to be part of a system, much more than just ‘if we’re testing for 8,000 people today we’ve made it.’ It’s like the Dow Jones average,” said Osterholm. “We need to do smart testing to test those who need it and get the results back to them and make a difference.”
Cooper suggested it was “pretty alarming” that “even in the White House, the testing they’re doing, you’re saying that’s not smart testing.”
“That was not smart testing at all,” he said. “I mean, trying to use that test as it was used to protect the president of the United States is like giving squirt guns to the Secret Service and saying ‘protect the president.’”
“That was just not an effective use of that test because there were clearly examples we could have false negatives, many of them,” Osterholm added. “And so, again, testing is important, but you’ve got to use the right test, and how you use it.”
Osterholm later highlighted another potential pitfall.
“Many people are not aware of the fact that we’re running these testing machines 24/7 right now around the world,” he said, noting how spare parts for the devices had to be sourced from Asia and Europe.
“We just haven’t thought about all of the things it takes to keep a testing system in place and so that’s what we’re trying to come back to,” he added.