Bill Gates said the majority of U.S. coronavirus testing is ‘just a complete waste’

Bill Gates coronavirus testing
Photo via Greg Rubenstein/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Bill Gates criticized how long it takes for Americans to receive the results of their coronavirus tests during an interview with CNBC on July 28. 

The entrepreneur and co-founder of Microsoft was responding to the question of what advice he would give to President Trump to fight the pandemic better. Gates took that as an opportunity to look at testing in the U.S.

“Well, the simplest thing, which has to do with such insanity, is you should not reimburse somebody for getting a test that takes more than 48 hours to get the result back,” Gates said. “That test is a complete waste.”

Gates was critical that it takes almost a week in some cases for patients to receive their COVID-19 test results. In July, two of the country’s biggest lab diagnostics companies said their labs were falling behind in processing and delivering test results because of the surge of COVID-19 testing, CNBC reported.  

“Right now, this thing where you wait more than three days, sometimes seven days to get a test, nobody should pay a dollar for that,” Gates said. “You need to get it back as soon as possible so that somebody can change their behavior, so they’re not infecting other people.”

Gates said the U.S. needs to prioritize increasing its testing turnaround time to 24 hours and said it was extra important for low-income communities. 

Although Trump has touted that the U.S. leads the world in the number of tests it conducts with around 770,000 tests administered daily, Gates said those stats are useless if Americans aren’t getting their results fast enough. 

“And so all these numbers about how much we test, the majority is just complete waste,” Gates said. 

Bill Gates is not alone in believing that a 24-hour turnaround for coronavirus testing is imperative to getting the country back on track to fight the pandemic. Adm. Brett Giroir, the White House official overseeing COVID-19 testing, told CNN that the turnaround times are too long. 

“I started out by saying that we are never going to be happy with testing until we get turnaround times within 24 hours and I would be happy with point-of-care testing everywhere,” Giroir said. “We are not there yet. We are doing everything we can to do that.” 

Additionally, CNN reported that the director of the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Francis Collins, said the delay “undercuts the value of the testing,” because it means COVID-19 patients may wait too long to self-isolate.  

Giroir said most delays can be pinpointed to tests processed by large commercial labs, which account for half of the testing in the U.S. A quarter of tests are “point-of-care” tests done at local doctor offices and clinics, where doctors can quickly swab a patient and get the results back within 15 minutes. The other quarter of tests are done at local hospitals and labs, which can turn around test results within 24 hours. 

Sources: Newsweek, CNBC, CNN

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