The novel coronavirus, COVID-19, is testing many of our institutions — especially those involved in the government’s public health system. As Congress has debated the extent of new public funding to be directed toward fighting the pandemic, another sector has emerged to prove its value. The work of private philanthropy is making an argument against those who increasingly posit that it operates only in the private, not the public, interest. It is proving that it can support both urgent responses and long-term solutions.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the nation’s best-endowed foundation, responded quickly and appropriately to the public health crisis in its hometown of Seattle, the location of a COVID-19 cluster. The foundation has announced it is on the verge of offering a home-testing service for those who may be infected (as determined by their responses to a questionnaire). The results will be determined through a nose swab sample sent to a University of Washington medical lab—already geared up thanks to $20 million from Gates to support its work in recognizing and combating flu viruses.
If this project proves to work quickly and practically, it will stand in sharp contrast to the delays and mistakes that have plagued the testing kits sent to healthcare institutions by the Centers for Disease Control. More effective quick and early testing may play a key role in isolating patients and lowering the risk of the virus’s spread.
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