Prominent Economist Calls For Ambitious, Widespread Testing

Months into the pandemic, the U.S. is still far away from rolling out nationwide testing for COVID-19.  

Congress has allocated $11 billion to jumpstart national testing, but Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Romer says that money would be exhausted in just eight days with widespread testing of essential personnel alone.

Romer is calling for the government to spend at least $100 billion per year to test the population on a widespread basis.

“If we just get the tests, find out who’s infected now and constrain only them, we can keep fighting the pandemic, we can save lives and we have a path towards recovery where people feel it’s safe and they know it’s safe to go back to work,” Romer tells KCBS Radio.

For an example of that dynamic, Romer points to the White House itself, where President Trump and Vice President Pence have been able to continue meeting with a coterie of experts and advisors on a daily basis because they and the people around them are being tested for the virus on a consistent basis.

Romer says there are two key ways to quickly and dramatically ramp up testing: relaxing FDA rules that are currently preventing companies from making more tests, and expanding the labs that do the testing, namely at universities in every state.

“Some of them are doing this just out of a sense of citizenship,” says Romer of university labs. “But we need to start providing a revenue stream to compensate them for hiring the staff and getting the equipment and tooling up in this effort.”

While $100 billion in one year sounds like a stunning number, Romer estimates the current economic shutdown is costing the U.S. economy at least $500 billion a month.