Billionaire Bill Gates has warned that coronavirus testing in the United States must improve and priority given to healthcare workers and those most in need before the country can effectively emerge from the outbreak.
The Microsoft co-founder spoke with CNBC on Thursday, where he said that the federal government had shown no interest in creating a unified national system which he believes could work to ensure that results were delivered quickly to the people who needed them most.
Gates, 64, claimed ‘we’re in big trouble’ unless test results are processed quicker because information on who is infected will greatly affect when the country can open back up.
Coronavirus cases in the U.S. hit over 436,000 on Thursday with a death toll of 15,674.
Bill Gates spoke with CNBC on Thursday when he blasted the ‘mismanagement’ of the testing system and criticized that the wealthy could get a test and leave healthcare workers waiting
‘The natural thing would be to do like South Korea did, and create a unified system — that we haven’t gotten any interest from the federal level,’ Gates said.
‘The thinking is to create a website that you go in and enter your situation and it would give you a priority number, and then hopefully all the people who control the capacity limit the priority level that they accept, so they’re giving these very quick results and to the right people.’
Gates warned that testing across the country is ‘still completely mis-prioritized’ and is not putting those in most need of having a test, and quickly receiving results, first.
‘Any time the queue [for testing] is over 24 hours, that’s complete mismanagement. Because the value of the result is far less worthwhile when you’re not getting it very, very quickly,’ Gates added.
‘The best case is the PCR test goes positive before you’re symptomatic or infectious and then you can act in such a way that you never infect anyone else.’
The PCR test is what is currently known as the swab test, a ‘fast and inexpensive technique’ that amplifies DNA to allow scientists to discover whether the person has the virus.
Gates says that the test is only enough to identify those who need to quarantine to prevent them from infecting others but that faster testing is still needed. He said PCR only tests positive when you’ve already infected people that you are most likely to infect.
Bill Gates has pushed a nationwide shutdown, limited domestic travel and administering more targeted testing if t he country is to break through the coronavirus outbreak effectively
He also hit out that the wealthy have greater access to testing despite healthcare workers being a priority.
‘You can have somebody without symptoms who gets tested every day in some wealthy community… and you can have a healthcare worker… waiting three or four days,’ he said, adding that the testing system ‘is completely unmanaged’.
Gates has claimed that his foundation is pumping ‘billions’ into finding a vaccine for coronavirus but that an extreme shutdown is needed across the nation before social distancing guidelines should be relaxed and the economy restarted.
He argued that the lack of a uniform shutdown was going to slow down the overall process and that it would be early June before there is any kind of opening up – and only if effective testing is in place.
Gates claimed that if ‘we get our act together countrywide and if the compliance is very high and that testing including some innovations like a self-swab that our foundation has driven and those get into place by early June, we’ll be looking at some type of opening up.
‘Because as a percentage of 330 million [Americans], we’re not going to be able to test many people … [and] we need to know that number because that deeply affects rebounds when opening up,’ Gates continued.
‘And there is some data that suggests it’s not a gigantic number but very, very important to pin that down.’
Gates predicted in a TED talk five years ago that ‘microbes not missiles’ would be more likely to kill millions of people around the world.
Now he has pushed a nationwide shutdown, limited domestic travel and administering more targeted testing to stop the overflow of patients at hospitals unable to cope with the surge in numbers.
‘Well, if we do the social distancing properly, we should be able to get out of this with the death number well short of that,’ Gates told Fox News Sunday.
Gates believes that by obtaining test results within 24 hours, the US will be able to quickly identify those an infected person has come into contact with so they can be isolated and slow the spread.
While there are strict international travel restrictions, Gates focused on the importance of domestic boundaries too.
The outbreak was identified in Wuhan, China in November with the first case in the US January.
As early as February, before any lockdowns, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation donated $10million to help fight the virus.
Gates has criticized the government’s delay in taking precautions and serious action after the outbreak.
‘Between 2015 and 2020, less than 5 percent of what should have been done was done,’ Gates said.
During the interview from Microsoft’s Skype service, Gates admitted that he wakes up every morning thinking the pandemic is only the subject of his nightmares.
But he said compared to a disease like smallpox, COVID-19 ‘isn’t the worst case’.
‘The one percent mortality rate when your system is not overloaded… if that was small pox that would be 30 percent,’ he explained.