Lag in testing prompts doubts on readiness to open economy

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is confident that the worst of the COVID-19 wave across the state is over, and he’s easing restrictions on some parts of the economy. We hope he’s right. Many medical professionals, however, raised alarms after Abbott last week announced the reopening of state parks and allowances for some retail stores to take orders and deliver them curbside. The health care professionals voiced concerns that we actually might not be ready for such renewed activity.

More importantly, many said we really don’t know, because testing for the coronavirus remains an issue.

The Department of State Health Services reports more than 200,000 Texans have been tested for COVID-19 infection.

However, this state of 29 million people is in the bottom third in per capita testing.

To be sure, test kits are being produced at increasing rates, with commercial and even veterinary operations retooling their production lines to make them and evaluate tissue samples.

That has allowed several Rio Grande Valley communities, the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and private clinics to offer tests, most common on a drive-thru basis.

However, supplies of kits are still tight enough that many of those sites still only test people who show symptoms. A person who wants to be tested because he might have been exposed to the virus but doesn’t show symptoms might be turned away, and could be passing it to others without knowing it, because he wasn’t tested. Even those who are tested often have to wait a week or more for the results, as labs analyzing the test samples remain critically backlogged.

Again, the virus could be spread during the interim.

Those who have doubled up their efforts, or switched from their normal operations, to assist in this time of crisis are to be commended.

We just need more of them.

State officials should try to identify places where more kits can be made and analyzed, and do what’s necessary to bring them online.

They might find manufacturing lines at commercial enterprises or vocational schools, and testing possibilities at university research labs that have been shuttered in response to the viral outbreak. If they can find qualified people willing to do the job, or train them as needed, and if measures can be taken to protect their safety, then the officials should invest the resources necessary to speed up the testing process.

At least some of those resources could come from the state’s Economic Stabilization Fund, best known as the Rainy Day Fund.

Texas voters in 1988 approved creation of the fund to address any emergencies — and this is an emergency if ever there was one.

Gov. Abbott would need to call a special legislative session in order to tap the fund, which currently has more than $8 billion, but they might be able to conduct businesses through an online social conferencing service, just like many schools and businesses have been holding sessions while self-quarantine orders have been in effect.

The best decisions are made with the best available information.

More thorough and timely testing for COVID-19 would help assure that Texas could be ready to reopen for business.