Maine CDC director Nirav Shah suggests COVID-19 could already be circulating in Maine. That is easy to believe since, to date, an astonishingly low number of tests have been run, with a handful still pending.

Most states in the country now report positive cases, including the rest of New England. The World Health Organization has declared a global pandemic. So yes, COVID-19 could already be with us. It may have been with us for some time. But without extensive testing it’s simply impossible to say, much less map its prevalence, adopt measures to contain its spread and protect our most vulnerable citizens.

Other countries have been testing for weeks. In the United States, we are weeks behind and still dealing with shortages. Only Washington State is slightly better positioned, having identified the disease early, thanks to a group of scientists testing independently.

The failure to implement large-scale screening at the first sign of an outbreak points to a serious flaw in the nation’s ability to address urgent public health issues in a timely manner.

While America mourns those lost to this disease — with every reason to expect more will follow — let us remember the next one could be far more lethal. Those responsible for ensuring rapid outbreak response should take this lesson to heart, because unless we have the capacity for rapid testing, eventually one of those really bad bugs will run us over like a freight train.

Scott Moncrieff, Pownal

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