Speed Reads


John Oliver explores how the U.S. messed up COVID-19 testing so badly and why it matters so much

Sunday's Last Week Tonight was, once more, about the COVID-19 coronavirus, "the Timothée Chalamet of viruses," as John Oliver described it. With more than 65,000 Americans dead from the coronavirus in three months, he said, it was "jarring to see Jared Kushner, and his resting do-you-know-who-my-father-is face, basically declare victory over the virus on Wednesday."

"Before we can celebrate Jared's 'great success story' and get back to our 'rockin'' selves, we badly need to work out how we can reopen parts of society safely, and experts say that really means one thing," Oliver said: Testing, testing, testing. The lack of early testing is America's coronavirus "original sin," because our blindness as the virus spread means we had "to use the blunt instrument of making everyone stay at home," he said, and to safely get out of his situation, the U.S. needs much more testing: 500,000 to 35 million tests a day, not the 200,000 the U.S. has ramped up to.

"Think of it like this: If our goal to were to eat an Italian dinner, we're currently stuck in traffic on our way to an Olive Garden — we're not even halfway to arriving at the worst place that technically qualifies," Oliver explained. "So if our testing shortage has caused this much damage, this must disruption, and is still not fully resolved, we thought tonight might be a good time to ask: What the f--k happened?"

With diagnostic testing, "logistical and bureaucratic challenges" catastrophically cost the U.S. all of February, and by the time the U.S. got serious, there were global shortages of crucial testing components, Oliver said. The antibody tests, on the other hand, are being sold with "essentially no oversight," most of them "are garbage," and it's not even clear antibodies confer immunity.

"Look, some confusion is inevitable when a new disease starts spreading its way around the world, and it's not like rolling out testing on this kind of scale was ever going to be easy," Oliver said. "But again and again, the people in charge failed to prepare for the worst-case scenario and have been slow in fixing mistakes. All of which means: In May, we are still playing catch-up in the middle of a pandemic, which in turn means thousands upon thousands of people dying preventable deaths. So if this is a 'great success story' for anyone, it's for the f---ing coronavirus." There's NSFW language throughout. Peter Weber