Our Opinion: Playing catch-up on coronavirus

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The coronavirus outbreak has exposed serious deficiencies in testing for pandemics in the nation. Gov. Baker has put the heat on the federal government to offer a belated response to the problem, and has had some success. However, valuable time was lost in the days following the outbreak of COVID-19 in the United States.

On Friday, President Trump tried to make up for that lost time by declaring a national emergency that will free up $50 billion to fight the disease. President Trump has moved from denial, to misleading information on the availability of tests for the virus, to scapegoating foreign countries, his own government agencies, and old standby President Obama. His latest stance could, if properly executed, enable states and communities to effectively combat the spread of the virus.

At a press conference in Pittsfield on Thursday, Gov. Baker noted that the state Department of Public Health lab, as capable as it is, could not keep up with the need for more tests. Thursday evening, the DPH told The Eagle that two national commercial labs, QUEST and Labcorp, with labs in Massachusetts will join in the testing, an important step forward.

In his press conference Friday, the president called upon the states to enact emergency procedures in response to the virus. Governor Baker did so three days ago and Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer did so on Thursday. That accomplished, the state, city and other communities need the financial aid promised yesterday, and quickly, to first and foremost establish testing centers.

The president's authorizing of the Health and Human Services secretary to waive certain hospital rules limiting the number of beds they can fill and allowing patients to stay longer in intensive care may help hospitals treat more patients, but only if they have the personnel to do so. Expediting the process of licensing out-of-state nurses to work at BMC and other state hospitals as the governor advocated would be a necessary step to accompany any HHS waivers of hospital rules.

In a tweet Thursday, state Sen. Adam Hinds, a Pittsfield Democrat, said that Berkshire County must be a testing priority because it is the only area of the state experiencing community transmission of unknown origin. This means, said the senator, that public and private labs with the best equipment must be used to diagnose the coronavirus. Ideally, the state will soon have the necessary federal resources. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Friday that House Democrats would pass a package of measures to provide "testing, testing, testing."

In South Korea, according to the Washington Post, regulators approved a new diagnostic test by a private company within a week and is testing 20,000 people on a daily basis. Infection rates there are now slowing. Unlike South Korea, the United States did not hit the ground running when the coronavirus arrived. If the funding released by the declaration of a national emergency arrives soon — and it is apportioned fairly without regard to red states and blue states — our county, state and nation can begin playing catch-up.



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