Big cities aren’t widely testing for coronavirus. Why? | Thursday Morning Coffee

The Pittsburgh skyline (Pittsburgh Current photo by Jake Mysliwczyk)

Good Thursday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

As of this writing, Pennsylvania is up to 16 cases of coronavirus, with the majority concentrated in densely populated eastern Pennsylvania.

Yet, as our colleagues at CityLab report, the nation’s big cities, where all the people are, are falling short on testing. And that’s even as “public health experts warn local efforts to contain the spread of Covid-19 require expanding the testing of residents,” the online news org observes.

And, “given the experience of other nations, it’s almost certainly the case that test results in the U.S. fail to convey the true severity of the problem,” CityLab’s Kriston Capps writes.

In a Twitter post, cited by Capps, one expert notes that the “number of new cases reported” in the United States “are not new.”

“They are newly discovered as we start to test more. Testing is still completely inadequate, and actual case numbers are much larger than the numbers we’re hearing because most cases never get tested,” Marc Lipsitch, who’s the director of Harvard’s Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, wrote.

Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine. Source: Pennsylvania Department of Health.

The difference appears to be one of response: While foreign governments were relatively well-prepared, the United States’ flat-footed response to the virus has hampered efforts to combat it.

From CityLab:

“America’s testing regime presents a problem as authorities struggle — maybe in vain, at this point — to keep local outbreaks in the U.S. from becoming regional epidemics like the one that has led authorities in Italy to put the entire nation under quarantine. Decisions at the state level may be contributing to bottlenecks that are exacerbating a crisis that began with a botched test rollout from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC removed testing totals from its website on March 2.

Official responses to the outbreak have varied from city to city, with some offering more information than others, Capps writes, pointing to the separate experiences of Washington D.C. and Austin, Texas. In each city, officials have taken very different approaches.

In Washington, as of Wednesday, “39 patients total [had] been tested for for Covid-19, according to a website where the city is posting coronavirus data. That’s in a city of more than 700,000 and the nation’s capital, where both the extent of international travel and the national security context might suggest that an outbreak could be a particular concern. Yet the city’s health lab can process up to 50 tests per day, D.C. Department of Forensic Science director Jenifer Smith told WAMU.” Capps wrote.Meanwhile, “Other cities aren’t saying as much as the District. Cities in Texas are only reporting positive test results, for example. A spokesperson for the City of Austin said that they’re following protocols established by the Texas Department of State Health Services and the CDC; local officials didn’t respond to a follow-up question about whether Austin was allowed to provide more details about their coronavirus testing procedures,” Capps wrote.

The bottom line: “What we are learning from this experience is the following: If you cannot see an epidemic developing, and cannot diagnose it, you will not be able to treat it and control the spread of disease,” Dan Hanfling, the vice-president of In-Q-Tel, a nonprofit venture capital firm that services the U.S. intelligence and defense communities, told CityLab. “What is really needed is a complete reset on how we think about diagnosing emerging infectious diseases. The technology to develop rapid, point-of-care effective diagnostics — think pregnancy tests — exists now.”

Attorney General Josh Shapiro. Source: AG Josh Shapiro Flickr.

Shapiro nets NARAL endorsement.
In news that may not necessarily surprise many readers, but which we pass along nonetheless, the reproductive rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America has endorsed Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s 2020 re-election bid.

Shapiro’s advocacy on reproductive rights, which has included repeatedly suing the Trump administration for its myriad of destructively stupid attacks on abortion access and family planning services, was determinative in NARAL’s endorsement decision.

Josh Shapiro has been a steadfast champion for Pennsylvanian women and families and we are proud to endorse him,” Ilyse Hogue, the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said in a statement exclusively obtained by the Capital-Star. “In the face of relentless attacks on reproductive freedom Josh will continue to protect Roe v. Wade and safeguard Pennsylvanians’ freedom to make their own decisions about pregnancy without interference from politicians. We need champions like him in office, now more than ever.”

In that same statement, Shapiro said that “defending reproductive rights against repeated attacks from the Trump administration is a top priority,” and he was “honored to have NARAL’s support.”

“From suing to protect Title X to winning a nationwide injunction to protect access to no-cost contraception to fighting abortion bans across the country in court, I’m committed to this fight and I’ll never back down from protecting a woman’s right to access quality, safe reproductive health care,” he concluded.

Shapiro, a widely mentioned 2022 candidate for governor, faces Republican Heather Heidelbaugh in the November general election. In February, Heidelbaugh, a former member of Allegheny County Council, won the endorsement of the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation, which opposes abortion rights.

The Pennsylvania Capitol building. (Capital-Star photo by Sarah Anne Hughes)

Our Stuff.
As we noted above, Pennsylvania is now up to 16 cases of coronavirus and officials are expecting community spread. Elizabeth Hardison has what you need to know from the latest Pa. Health Department briefing.

And if you need more information on testing, symptoms, or whom to call, we’ve put together a patented Capital-Star explainer to take care of those questions.

In Washington D.C., Congress has rebuked the Trump White House’s bid to slash CDC funding amid the outbreak, and a top public health officials told a congressional committee Wednesday that, perhaps inevitably, things are going to get worse before they get betterWashington Bureau Chief Robin Bravender brings you both stories.

In the best kind of non-viral news, the state has awarded $5M in safety grants to houses of worships and others to protect themselves against hate crimes, Hardison also reports. And on Capitol Hill, the U.S. Senate has voted to axe Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ horrible student loan rules, Bravender also reports.

From our partners at the Central Voice, an iconic Harrisburg-based HIV/AIDS health clinic will mark its 35th anniversary of providing services this year.  It’s a pillar of central Pennsylvania’s LGBTQ community.

On our Commentary Page, Erie pol and activist Ron DiNicola says awarding Erie a new community college will help the whole state. And if Pennsylvania had even an outside shot at mattering this primary season, that hope pretty much evaporated after Tuesday, opinion regular Fletcher McClellan writes.

And a housekeeping note: Several of the more arch among you wrote in to let us know that we inadvertently appointed Richard Vague the state’s acting Baking Secretary, when he is, in fact, acting Banking Secretary. Some of you found the gaffe … delicious … and we can’t blame you.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and his wife Mary Jane O’Meara Sanders wave to supporters before Sanders spoke before a large crowd at a rally in the Colorado Convention Center on Feb. 16, 2020 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Marc Piscotty/Getty Images)

Elsewhere.
The Inquirer
 looks at the ‘warning signs’ in the Pennsylvania counties that Bernie Sanders won in 2016.
Officials in Allegheny County have issued a list of tips to avoid contracting coronavirus. Pittsburgh City Paper runs it down.
The state is lagging on protections for vulnerable seniorsPennLive sizes up the legislative state of play (paywall).
The Allentown schools will shut down on Thursday and Friday with a staff member getting tested for coronavirus, the Morning Call reports.

Here’s your #Pennsylvania Instagram of the Day (Who’s a Good Boy?? Edition):

Philadelphia’s health community offers five tips to avoid coronavirus (via WHYY-FM).
The Legislature isn’t changing its session schedule because of coronavirus, the PA Post reports.
Pennsylvania is a toss up in the fall presidential election, according to the Cook Political Report (via PoliticsPA).
A new poll shows former Veep Joe Biden with a 44-point lead over Sen. Bernie Sanders in Florida with the Sunshine State’s primary closing in, Politico reports.

What Goes On.
Gov. Tom Wolf
 and state health officials are slated to hold a noontime briefing at PEMA HQ in suburban Harrisburg. These all get bumped to later in the day. This one probably will too.

Heavy Rotation.
Here’s one from Fizzler, which seems appropriately Harrisburg. It’s ‘Minimum Wage.’

Thursday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link.
With Columbus and San Jose announcing they’ll play games without fans, and the NBA season now on hold, the NHL is expected to announce its coronavirus response on Thursday.

And now you’re up to date.

John L. Micek
John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. He's been covering Pennsylvania politics for more than 20 years and most recently served as Opinion Editor at PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa. Micek's commentary is syndicated to more than 800 newspapers nationwide by Cagle Syndicate. And he's a regular contributor to a host of broadcast outlets in Pennsylvania and abroad.