23 March 2020

So there's waffling about letting anybody else but the existing (overloaded) public labs to COVID-19 testing

Which I found out via twitter, I wrote my MP.

From: Graydon
To: Raj.Saini@parl.gc.ca
Subject: increasing COVID-19 test capacity
Reply-To: graydonish@gmail.com


So I'm one of your constituents and I can do a little bit of math.

It is critically important that we ramp up COVID-19 testing capacity as fast as possible.  Not "as fast as could be done in regular circumstances", but as fast as we can do it.  It is past time to recognize the depth and severity of the emergency we face.

That means finding a way to have research labs support and supplement the existing public testing labs by running tests immediately, not after a lengthy accreditation process.  This means relaxing regulations; this means taking a small risk of tests not being run properly to avoid the certain overload of our health care system.  I have no doubt that standard tests already developed in public health labs can be run by highly skilled technicians from research labs under the full supervision of the public health labs, without requiring that research lab techs go through the normal accreditation process.  Perfect in six weeks is useless; it has to be in place and running now.

Last month would have been a lot better.  It was entirely obvious last month from what was happening in Korea and Taiwan what an effective response would look like.  Canada hasn't done this and it's going to hurt us badly and you, sir, are among those personally responsible for this lapse.

It means going abroad for low-cost, quick-response kits such as those being developed by Institut Pasteur, paying the licensing fees, and getting domestic production ramped up like there was a war on.  Canada lost under a percent of the then-total population in the Great War; we're looking at losing much more than that in one year if the health care system goes down.  This situation is much worse than a war.

So far, the Canadian public response has been marked by vacillation and incompetence from our elected leaders; there's been far, far too much waffling and far, far too much worry about the markets, rather than how to keep absolutely everybody housed and fed for the year or two before we can put an economy back together.  An economy with much more primary manufacturing and no fossil carbon extraction, because if we have the means to keep everybody alive we can totally decarbonize while we're about rebuilding things in a more robust form than the current capital-optimizing long supply chains.  That'll keep everybody alive for much longer than a year or two.


signature and address elided


JReynolds said...

That's what has been striking me about the federal government's response. Instead of going full tilt immediately towards preparedness, they're taking slow steps. Things get worse? Slow step forward. Things get worse again? Better take another slow step.

This might work if the problem they faced was linear. For an exponential problem, not so much.

The only reason Trudeau and co are seen as doing a good job is that Trump is so so much worse.

(For the record, the alt-historical PM Andrew Scheer is doing an even worse job in the timelines where he won the election).


Graydon said...

+JReynolds People have trouble with exponentials. Nobody in leadership in Canadian politics is numerate, never mind has good math intuition. (More and BETTER compulsory math, dammit.)

Effective pandemic responses look like, and feel like, you're overreacting. So much of politics is projecting calm and assurance and so forth. It's very challenging to do that AND produce an appropriate pandemic response.

So we've been squeaking by on SARS and the asymptomatic transmission up from the States is something we're just not ready for. If it doesn't show up next week we're far, far luckier than we deserve.

Zeborah said...

Both testing and *contact tracing*. The two in tandem can do a lot, for this particular disease's timeframes. (And a lockdown slows the exponential growth in order to buy you time to do that.)

Our prime minister has been amazing in projecting calm while also ramping us up within about a week from "please wash your hands a lot" to "all of New Zealand is now closed". We've had some great science communicators helping walk people through it too. People seem by and large (with inevitable outliers: brains don't always cope with change on this scale) to be respecting the need for it all. We'll just see if *enough* people respect it *enough*.

Graydon said...

+Zeborah Contact tracing is what you do when you haven't got enough tests to test everybody daily for a couple of months. It's much better than not doing it when that's the case, but it's not what you want to be doing. (Even in a context of nobody wanting a pandemic.) The folks who do contact tracing get stress injuries from worrying about who they've missed. (Since they do inevitably miss someone.)

I'm glad you're getting effective leadership! It's sort of partial, hearabouts.