By John Pickerill
Published in the Pueblo Chieftain.
Federal government bureaucracy prevented the private sector from containing the coronavirus in America. And now governments in the United States are reacting by violating our civil rights and economic freedom.
South Korea proved a pandemic can be contained without totalitarian measures. According to World Health Organization data, South Korea and the U.S. both reported their first coronavirus cases around Jan. 21.
South Korea reacted quickly. According to Reuters news agency, Korean health authorities met with 20 medical companies Jan. 27, requesting immediate development of effective test kits and were promised quick regulatory approval.
One week later, they approved the first test kit. By the end of February, South Korea was testing thousands daily.
Within seven weeks, they had tested more than 270,000, identifying 8,000 infections. By publishing results quickly, Koreans had the information they needed to voluntarily take action.
Those infected self quarantined. Those testing 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. “That’s the key behind our very low fatality rate.”
South Korea didn’t stop its economy or shutdown its country. Since early March, the country contained its outbreak and has had few new infections. The case rate stabilized at 200 infections per 1 million population.
Meanwhile in the U.S., our case rate is 1,200 infections per 1 million and climbing rapidly, according to the April 8 WHO report. After two months, many Americans still can’t get tested due to a lack of test 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. The U.S. couldn’t tell how many were infected or where they were.
So why couldn’t we contain the virus in the U.S.? According to investigative journalists Brett Murphy and Letitia Stein of USA Today, it was the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration.
The CDC was supposed to develop the first coronavirus test kits permitted in the U.S., but botched it. When it distributed its kits to state labs in early February, those labs discovered they 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.
When public and private labs offered to help by developing their own tests, the 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 its 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,” said 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, shutting down entire sectors of the economy, prohibiting citizens from assembling or leaving our homes in what feels like martial law. Nowhere in the U.S. Constitution is government granted authority to do such things.
This remedy will be worse than the virus. Many businesses might never reopen. More than 10 million Americans filed for unemployment in March. The stock market crashed harder than during the Great Depression and took retirement funds with it.
The government’s answer is a $2 trillion “stimulus package” even though it is already $24 trillion in debt. The Federal Reserve is printing trillions of dollars, which could trigger hyperinflation and destruction of the dollar and bond market. The federal government started taking control of private businesses through the National Production Act.
Early testing could have avoided all this. Government got in the way and now we’re suffering for its incompetence. The likely economic depression will last for years.
John Pickerill is the chairman of the Libertarian Party of Pueblo County. He advocates for individual liberty, free market economics, private property rights and constitutionally limited government.