LOS ANGELES - An Ohio state lawmaker is urging the public not to get tested for the coronavirus, contrary to the advice of public health experts, who have cited a widespread, robust testing system as one of the primary tools for slowing the rapid spread of COVID-19 across the U.S.
Republican State Rep. Nino Vitale made the statement on his Facebook page Tuesday, after Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced the requirement of face coverings in public for residents in counties considered “high risk” for COVID-19.
"Are you tired of living in a dictatorship yet,” Vitale wrote. “This is what happens when people go crazy and get tested. STOP GETTING TESTED!”
Vitale’s claims run counter to the urgent warnings of public health experts, who say that the problem isn’t too much testing — it’s too little. The United States has been plagued by testing problems from the outset of the pandemic, and as the novel coronavirus spreads rapidly across the country, the demand for testing is once again outstripping supply.
In April, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, estimated that the United States was conducting approximately 1.5 to 2 million COVID-19 tests per week and that “we probably should get up to twice that as we get into the next several weeks, and I think we will.”
Testing has since been ramped up nationwide, reaching about 640,000 tests per day on average, up from around 518,000 two weeks ago, according to an Associated Press analysis. Newly confirmed infections per day in the U.S. are running at over 50,000, breaking records at practically every turn.
More testing tends to lead to more cases found, but testing is not creating new cases of the novel coronavirus — COVID-19’s spread is driven by human behaviors. In an alarming indicator, the percentage of tests coming back positive for the virus is on the rise across nearly the entire country, hitting almost 27% in Arizona, 19% in Florida and 17% in South Carolina.
Testing alone without adequate contact tracing and quarantine measures won't control the spread of the scourge, according to health experts. But they say delays in testing can lead to more infections by leaving people in the dark as to whether they need to isolate themselves.
While the U.S. has conducted more tests than any other nation, it ranks in the middle of the pack in testing per capita, behind Russia, Spain and Australia, according to Johns Hopkins University.
“I am stunned that as a nation, six months into this pandemic, we still can’t figure out how to deliver testing to the American people when they need it,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, director of Harvard’s Global Health Institute. “It is an abject failure of leadership and shows that the federal government has not prioritized testing in a way that will allow us to get through this pandemic.”
On June 29, Quest Diagnostics, one of the nation’s leading medical testing companies, which completed more than 5 million COVID-19 diagnostic tests in June, announced that it is overwhelmed by the surging demand for coronavirus-related services.
As a result of the high demand, the company said it is currently only providing single-day turnaround for coronavirus test results for hospitalized patients only.
Vitale claimed, without evidence, that testing “is giving the government an excuse to claim something is happening that is not happening at the magnitude they say it is happening." Yet, public health officials have reported a recent spike in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Ohio.
As of July 9, there were 61,331 total confirmed cases and 3,006 deaths in the state, the Ohio Department of Health reported.
According to John Hopkins University, the virus has brought over 130,000 U.S. deaths — the highest toll in the world — and more than 3 million confirmed infections nationwide as of July 9.
In May, Vitale released a co-sponsor request for a bill, which would not allow any Ohio State official elected or un-elected, to require facial coverings of any kind.
When asked why he was sponsoring the legislation, Vitale said, “I personally cannot stand any elitist political attitude that states the people should be required to do something while the elite political class is not required to follow the same laws.”
On June 3, the bill was referred to committee.
The surge in new cases, including in states like Arizona, Florida, Texas and California, has been blamed in part on Americans not wearing masks or obeying other social-distancing rules. The rise in cases has prompted some governors to halt the reopening of businesses or to order others to re-close.
Numerous states — including Nevada, New Jersey, Texas and Kentucky — have recently mandated face masks in public, due to an alarming surge in COVID-19 cases.
On Wednesday, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy mandated masks outdoors when social distancing isn’t possible, in his latest move to help stem the spread of the virus.
Ohio currently mandates masks in 12 counties that are considered "high risk." Vitale's district, which covers Champaign, Logan and Shelby counties, as of July 9, did not fall into that category.
A recent study showed that droplets without a mask traveled an average of 8 feet, with a maximum distance observed of roughly 12 feet. With a quilting cotton mask, forward motion was reduced to 2-3 inches.
But emerging evidence indicates that COVID-19 is likely airborne, with the capacity to spread from smaller aerosolized particles from breathing and speaking that can linger in the air for hours, according to scientists.
More than 230 scientists from a variety of fields recently contributed to an open letter calling on the World Health Organization to acknowledge that the coronavirus can spread in the air, urging the WHO to update its official guidance on the subject.
Doctors on the front lines of the fight against the novel coronavirus have pleaded with the public to wear facial coverings.
“We have interventions that reduce spread from one person to another, like masking and physical distancing. I don’t understand why people risk infecting their loved ones with a potentially deadly disease, a disease we know has long-term health effects for those who survive it,” said Dr. Brad Dreifuss, an emergency physician and public health specialist in Tucson, Arizona, adding that even asymptomatic people can suffer from reduced lung function.
On the heels of the Fourth of July, Dreifuss said the country needs to unify around the “patriotic project” of decreasing the spread of COVID-19 — calling protective measures such as wearing a mask and keeping physical distance “patriotic acts.”
Dreifuss is also among a number of public health officials calling for a more effective strategy as a nation to test, contact trace and quarantine.
“In countries around the world where mask-wearing is seen as patriotic, they aren’t seeing the same kind of economic and human toll that we are in the United States,” Dreifuss said. “Frankly, by resisting masks and physical distancing, we are weakening America.”
This story was reported from Los Angeles. Kelly Taylor Hayes contributed to this report.