...and "Who's On First" broke out: Has the United States, at long last, finally become the "pitiful, helpless giant" to which Richard Nixon once referred?
Is the newly-designated global pandemic actually the global conflagration we've heard described, by despondent future experts, though only as "Mister Trump's War?"
We're trying to get you answers to these inevitable questions. For today, we thought it was worth recording what happened when two CDC officials were asked an obvious question last Friday afternoon.
We return to Donald J. Trump's visit to the CDC. During the visit, he held a long press conference, accompanied by two CDC officials—Director Robert Redfield and Associate Director for Laboratory Science and Safety Steve Monroe.
At one point, a journalist prefaced a rambling question in the manner shown:
QUESTION (3/6/20): I have a question for Dr. Monroe, please. Would you admit that the CDC did have problems with the tests?For the full transcript, click here.
Did the CDC have problems with the tests? It seems like a fairly obvious question.
The full question which followed was somewhat unclear. That said, Monroe answered like this:
MONROE: So we did learn shortly after we distributed the first batch of our tests to some of the state health labs that there was an issue with one component of the test. And so we quickly put together a team to try to figure out what that issue was and we suggested that people not test until we could sort that out. But what we—what we have are three different signatures that we test for. And we—in working with FDA colleagues, we identified that two of those were sufficient to have a positive conclusive test.According to Monroe, the CDC discovered a problem with their test. As a result, they were just again starting from scratch.
And so we’ve moved forward now with testing with just the two signatures. And this is something that could easily happen where we’re, we’re just, again, starting from scratch with sequence information, building a test rather rapidly. We did small-scale testing here before rolling it out because our—our goal was to get it out to the public health labs as quickly as possible.
A journalist then offered an obvious follow-up question. We thought it might be worth recording what happened next.
The follow-up question went like this:
QUESTION (continuing directly): But you didn’t have to start from scratch. You could’ve just used the WHO’s test. Why did you choose to start from scratch when it would be a longer process?Why didn't you use the WHO test? Again, it seems like the obvious question.
To our eye and ear, sheer chaos followed. Is this exchange, or is it not, a version of "Who's On First?"
MONROE (continuing directly): But we started with our test probably the same time the Germans and the other—Italians and the other groups that have worked with WHO were developing their own test.We started with an obvious question—why didn't the CDC use the WHO test?
Nobody could start with test development until the sequence information was made available by the Chinese.
QUESTION: Right. But theirs didn’t have any faults—the WHO's. So why didn't we use that?
REDFIELD: I would like—I’d like to make one thing clear.
REDFIELD: When this test was developed in, in really very rapid time, it was first offered here at CDC. So all the public health labs in this nation could use CDC as we do when any new disease comes, and we can help them understand if this new pathogen is in that individual. That was available as soon as our test was approved by the FDA—not a faulty test, a very accurate test.
But the challenge was you had to send the sample here to CDC. That’s the same test we use today. So no, state labs never had no access. They always had the ability to send it here.
QUESTION: But they had to send it here because there were false reads?
REDFIELD: No, they had to send it here because that’s how we started it. Then we developed the test to expand, and in the manufacturing, there wasn’t—then, after that, we sent it out to the states to see if they could verify that it worked.
We found that, in some of the states, it didn’t work. We figured out why. I don’t consider that a fault. I consider that doing quality control. I consider that success, making sure this test was going to perform out there with the same proficiency that it performed here.
TRUMP: And now it’s all performing perfectly, right?
REDFIELD: Yes, sir.
We ended up with that. We can't see where the obvious question got answered. Instead, the exchange strikes us as a masterpiece of confusion, as a first cousin to Who's On First..
Eventually, Trump jumped in to say everything's perfect. Director Redfield agreed.
Have we become that "pitiful, helpless giant?" We report, then we let you decide.