WaPo: “Flying blind is no way to survive a pandemic”

Finally, I agree with a Washington Post editorial.


Amid the omicron spike, the recent uproar about testing and quarantine rules has spotlighted the current unscientific nature of “the science”.

Biden’s scientific team offers up simultaneously contradictory points of view, small scale ad hoc studies that incite reactionary course reversals, and no logical, fact-based “theory of the case”.

In the words of Rajiv J. Shah, president of the Rockefeller Foundation:

“The United States has been flying virally blind.”

More specifically, Shah argues:

Data is the secret weapon that has helped beat every disease outbreak over the last century.

Data is what moves us from a panic-driven response to a science-driven one, telling us how to fight back and which tools are best.

But, as Covid-19 swept the world one year ago, the United States under-prioritized the need for data and the tests that produce it.

The data-deficient response to Covid-19 is why this pandemic’s been so deadly, so disruptive and so costly.

Currently, only a handful of countries (e.g. Israel, South Africa, Britain) are systematically collecting, analyzing and sharing data that is sufficiently comprehensive, precise and timely to help public health authorities and scientists make informed decisions about relaxing precautions or adapting vaccines and treatments.

Unfortunately, from a data perspective, the United States is in no better position to understand and stop a viral variant today than it was before the pandemic started.

The United States has not yet built a real-time system of viral surveillance that would allow comprehensive tracking of variants as they move through the population.

As it is now, the CDC pulls together viral surveillance data from a variety of sources, including its own facilities, state public health labs, and university and private laboratories.

The frustrating complexity and diversity of electronic medical records is an ongoing challenge.

The data sets are minimally standardized, key data is often uncollected, data file formats vary and data reporting is sporadic.

So, it can take weeks to build a complete and reliable picture of how a variant is spreading.

By then, it’s often too late and a newer variant must be battled.

The U.S. must take crucial steps to support a national viral surveillance network to defeat Covid-19 and prepare for the next pandemic.

Bottom line: It’s not surprising that there’s no over-riding theory-of-the-case, confusion re: pivotal factors (e.g. prevalence, transmission, re-infection, mitigation effectiveness) and a seemingly endless pandemic.

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