Rachel Maddow highlights a town in Italy that benefitted tremendously from universal testing and isolation of those identified positive for COVID-19.
March 19, 2020

In Episode #8,251 of "Please Explain Why We Refused Tests From The WHO, Again?" we have Rachel Maddow shining a bright light on two very helpful explainers of the importance of mass testing. It should silence those who consider calls for quarantines and shelter-in-place orders overreactions, but it won't.

The first comes from Mark Lipsitch, who runs the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics at Harvard University. He talks about the relationship between the number of new cases and the demand for ICU beds that occurs three weeks later.

MADDOW: He said today, very simply, in a way that I think is actually memorable, and therefore really useful for all of us, he said, quote, intensive care demand lags new infections by about three weeks because it takes that long for a newly-infected person to get critically ill. And again, not everybody who gets infected will become critically ill, but the people who need critical care will start showing up at ICUs about three weeks after they became infected.


The steep rise in [Italy's] infections foretells by about three weeks, the collapse in their hospitals happening today. That region's governor again saying that we will no longer be able to treat people in hospitals. That is the terrible news from Italy. That is why you keep hearing people talk about Italy like it is the boogieman in this story. That is why New York officials, in particular, are sounding the alarm about the mirror between New York cases and Italy, about how the steep rise in cases in New York now foretells a crush in hospitals here coming very, very soon, just as we have seen it play out in realtime in northern Italy.

Maddow shared an encouraging experiment, though, without implying it was easy to duplicate on the large scale necessary in a nation of over 350 million people. She shared it as an example of the benefits of mass testing, proof that asymptomatic people can have the virus, and that isolation works. This took place in the town of Vo, Italy.

MADDOW: ...there are about 3,300 people in that town of Vo, where they had the first deaths. And they did a study, with the local university, and they decided that what they were going to do in that town is that they were going to test every single resident of the town. 3300 people. They tested everybody. They got 90 positive tests. Including at least half a dozen people who were completely asymptomatic and would never have been otherwise identified had they not done this experiment in which they tested everyone regardless of symptoms. But they tested everybody, everybody who tested positive, they isolated them.

And then after the period of isolation, they tested the whole town again. Anybody newly positive again, isolated. Well, after having done that, after having done universal testing and universal isolation of all positive cases, they have now gone days with no new cases in that town.

Acknowledging the fact that you cannot extrapolate globally from one small town, Maddow pulled out the validity of the principles at play. If we'd only had the tests available to test everyone — remember, South Korea quickly had the ability to test 10,000 people per day, whereas the U.S. tested only a few thousand people over the span of weeks — we might have only had to isolate the people who tested positive instead of the entire city and state populations. Or perhaps we might have had to resort to those drastic measures, but we might have had a reasonable end date to expect and look forward to — instead of this chaos and uncertainty and obvious ineptitude.

Instead, we have this:

MADDOW: New York City had 814 cases as of yesterday. As of today, the number is 1,871. That is way more than doubling in a day in New York City. New York State now has enough cases, that if New York State were a country, there would be only ten other countries on earth with more known cases.

Can you help us out?

For nearly 20 years we have been exposing Washington lies and untangling media deceit, but now Facebook is drowning us in an ocean of right wing lies. Please give a one-time or recurring donation, or buy a year's subscription for an ad-free experience. Thank you.


We welcome relevant, respectful comments. Any comments that are sexist or in any other way deemed hateful by our staff will be deleted and constitute grounds for a ban from posting on the site. Please refer to our Terms of Service for information on our posting policy.