EDITORIAL: Test time

Increased checks for virus helps determine real threat

The United States boasts one of the most advanced medical systems in the world, and yet it has drawn widespread criticism for lagging behind other countries in its response to the coronavirus pandemic that has swept much of the globe.

One reason for the slow response has been an insufficient supply of kits to test for the COVID-19 virus. Officials don’t know how many people are infected or where they are, which is a major reason why they have opted to impose restrictions on the general population, lest an unknown carrier infect untold numbers of others.

Fortunately, testing kits are becoming more available, and the city of Brownsville this week began offering drive-thru testing at the Brownsville Sports Park. Residents who wish to be tested are asked to fill out an online questionnaire that’s available on the city’s webpage and Facebook page.

Medical professionals evaluate the questionnaires and determine who should be tested, then call to inform the residents if they should drive by for testing.

Those who are tested will not pay out of pocket, although insurance companies will be billed for their policyholders’ tests.

It’s good to see that the city has enough tests to offer the service, and has chosen to do so. It is hoped that other Rio Grande Valley cities will be able to do the same.

It’s good that more people can be tested, as it can help officials determine better responses, and determine how long they should continue current curfews, spacing limits and other restrictions on the general population.

We should bear in mind, however, that increased testing could lead to increased confirmed cases. Much has been made of the rapid spread of the virus in several areas, where the number of cases has doubled in just a few days. Many of those cases aren’t new, but rather existing cases that hadn’t been diagnosed before.

We hope officials will be totally forthcoming with information regarding the number of cases, developments in treatment and other important information — not to scare people, but to keep them informed about the seriousness of the health crisis.

Such information helps us determine what’s working, what isn’t and how long local residents can expect the current impositions on their activities. Knowledge helps people understand the need for those impositions, and makes them more bearable.

The patience of the population, and the resilience and creativity of various entities in dealing with the outbreak is admirable. Schools have been able to establish online options that have allowed them to forgo campus classes for the remainder of the current school year. It’s safe to assume that in the interest of playing it safe, those adjustments won’t change regardless of when officials say our lives can return to normal.

We don’t expect normalcy anytime soon, but the sooner we can get a clear view of the size of the threat — more than two dozen cases across the Valley so far — the sooner we can get an idea of when the crisis will end.

But it all begins with information.