RALEIGH – One of the persistent frustrations of health officials and citizens alike is the lack of consistent, reliable data/data collection with which to evaluate the extent of the coronavirus spread as to determine true health risks and inform appropriate policy responses. With the seeming inability to do full scale testing, confirmed cases numbers of COVID-19 versus hospitalizations and deaths is a figure corrupted with incomplete information. Incomplete information that leans toward the scarier side of things, and has led to unprecedented government actions to restrict citizens’ movements.

So how do we get a better picture? One idea that has been suggested is a standard protocol of random sample testing, similar to how we map the flu’s spread, that allows experts to get a better sense of how far the virus has spread already, better infer rates of severity, and better our chances of an efficacious response.

Senate leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) has called for just that kind of testing, but the Cooper administration has thus far resisted. Carolina Partnership for Reform points out why that is problematic in achieving the solution everyone wants to this coronavirus conundrum:

“The coronavirus – also more specifically called COVID-19 – appears more and more to be China’s super flu gift to the world.  As it rages across the country and cases multiply in North Carolina, our leaders look for answers to lessen its impact and get it under control.

Thanks to the reform majority, North Carolina has $5.9 billion stashed in various savings accounts. We can fight back. But we also have no idea how big an impact this disease will have on state coffers for the coming months.  The worry is about the lack of tax revenue from sales taxes and other taxes as the air has gone out of our state’s economy with businesses closed, workers furloughed and little understanding of where this is all going.

Governor Cooper and his health advisors have worked to mitigate the prevalence of cases with various containment edicts, including a stay-at-home order intended to limit social group contacts.

NC Senate Leader Phil Berger thinks we could do more, suggesting that we track COVID-19 like the flu, using large-scale random sample testing. It’s another way of addressing containment that would give us more understanding of the virus and a better sense of how it works and who it attacks. 

So far the Governor’s health pros haven’t acted on the idea. The state epidemiologist however acknowledged that the surveillance system currently being used by state health officials has limitations when it comes to tracing the full extent of the virus’ spread — including in people who show mild symptoms and don’t seek medical care and in those who are infected and show no symptoms.

So – if random sample testing could help where the surveillance containment strategy falls short, why not try it?  More data, a bigger picture of what’s truly going on would appear to help.  Experts including a Stanford professor of medicine and epidemiology have called for more reliable data.

As Senator Berger has said, “Government leaders are making decisions without the benefit of relevant and obtainable data. Unfortunately, they don’t know how prevalent the virus is and has been in the population. Therefore, we do not have sufficient, reliable information to understand true hospitalization and fatality rates.”

It’s time for Governor Cooper to get on board with this innovative idea that hopefully could help target our efforts to “flatten the curve” even more in the fight against this insidious disease.  This isn’t about one group being right or wrong.  Let’s hope they’re all right and we enlist the best minds and techniques our great country can muster to fight this virus.”

The Cooper administration, like others throughout the country, has favored shutdown policies based on the feared impact of the virus but is apparently resisting opportunities to gain a better understanding of the real impact of the virus. At this point, with all of us ordered to ‘shelter in place’ for the foreseeable future, North Carolinians are owed as much of the full picture as we can possibly get. The prices being paid in livelihoods grows every minute the economy is artificially suppressed. That pressure won’t be relieved until fears are dispelled, and that cannot happen with more data and actionable information.

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