Watchdog report finds delays, testing inaccuracies in government response to COVID-19

Watchdog report finds delays, testing inaccuracies in government response to COVID-19
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Incomplete and inconsistent data reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on the amount of coronavirus testing occurring nationwide has significantly hampered efforts to track infections and make informed decisions about reopening, according to a new government watchdog report.

The Government Accountability Office report, released Thursday, comes as the U.S. is facing what many experts have described as a worst case scenario. The death toll has surpassed 122,000, and cases are spiking as states across the country pushed reopening too quickly. 

The report highlights delays in the U.S. response to the virus, and illustrates shortcomings in making sure hospitals and states had enough testing supplies and protective equipment.

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According to the report, the data that CDC reported on the amount of viral testing occurring nationwide was not complete or consistent. For example, testing data may not have included all tests performed by laboratories at point-of-care settings, such as physicians’ offices. 

The agency also reported testing data from different sources that have varied over time and have not been counting the tests the same way. 

Some states’ websites counted the number of people tested, while others counted the number of samples tested, which could include multiple tests of one person. CDC also combined antibody tests with diagnostic tests, inflating the number of tests conducted.

The watchdog report also faulted the U.S. for an inadequate amount of supplies in the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS). 

According to officials from the Offices of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, who were interviewed by GAO, the SNS did not have the capacity to provide states with supplies at the scale necessary, the report found.

"The nationwide need for critical supplies to respond to COVID-19 quickly exceeded the quantity of supplies contained in the Strategic National Stockpile, which is designed to supplement state and local supplies during public health emergencies," the report said. 

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For example, the SNS did not contain the number of N95 respirator masks that would be needed in a severe pandemic. 

Part of the reason was because of a lack of funding. When the stockpile ran low after the H1N1 pandemic in 2009, administration officials told GAO that it was not replenished because of funding shortfalls. 

But there's still information that the administration has not provided.

"Although we requested information on the SNS inventory prior to the pandemic, the types and amounts of supplies that states requested, as well as what ASPR and FEMA distributed from the SNS in response to states’ requests, HHS and FEMA had not provided this information as of June 12, 2020," the report said, referring to the Department of Health and Human Services and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.