Op Ed: Hickenlooper Calls For Universal Coronavirus Testing Capacity to Restart American Economy

“Universal Testing Is The Key To Defeating The Coronavirus And The Path To Returning Our Country To Work”

We need universal coronavirus testing capacity to get America back to work.

When I opened Colorado’s first brewpub, we had to work hard to get people in the door to try something new. Today, in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, restaurant owners and other small businesses will have a much more difficult burden to bear. Even when restrictions are lifted and officials allow businesses to reopen, people aren’t likely to go out to eat, go shopping, or head back to the office without knowing for certain that their health and the safety of their community isn’t at risk.

I believe the only way to regain our confidence and restart our economy is having the capacity to either test or vaccinate every American.

It may be many months until a COVID-19 vaccine is found safe and approved for widespread use, despite encouraging early reports from initial testing.

The capacity for universal testing needs to come faster. So far, America has tested fewer than a million people. Tests are still scarce, restricted, and slow. Of course, the available tests must go first to those with the worst symptoms, the most direct exposure, and those doctors, nurses, EMTs and first responders on the front lines.

But with American ingenuity, we will soon create a faster test that is easier and cheaper to mass-produce. Already one company has announced a new test that takes just five minutes to get results, and others are working around the clock to bring down testing times.

To get our economy back on track, we need to begin scaling up our capacity to test every American so each person knows if they are a risk to themselves or others. We provide flu shots on a mass scale. Our public health officials can figure out how to administer COVID-19 tests on a nationwide scale as well.

Without this testing, restaurant owners and other small business owners won’t know if the workers they are employing or the customers they so desperately need are contagious. People won’t know if the person sitting next to them at the office or standing next to them on the assembly line is a danger to them. Consumer confidence is essential to reopening America. That’s why universal testing capacity is the key to improving our health, stabilizing and strengthening our businesses, and getting people back to work.

In South Korea, vigorous, widespread early testing and tracing slowed the spread of the novel Coronavirus. They isolated and treated those who tested positive and had symptoms. Those who tested positive but were asymptomatic were isolated to prevent them from inadvertently spreading the virus. South Korea didn’t just flatten the rate of increase; they’re beating back the virus.

And here in Colorado, San Miguel County is showing how it can be done. Two residents who work in biotech have partnered with local government to provide free blood tests to every one of the county’s nearly 8,200 residents. The test being administered will work to indicate both whether a person is positive for the virus itself and whether they have antibodies indicating they’d previously had it. This additional data will help public health officials and individuals make the best decisions for the health of their communities.

We have to do the same testing and tracing across America. Universal testing is the key to defeating the Coronavirus and the path to returning our country to work. Our health — and the financial health of our economy — depends on it.

John Hickenlooper is a geologist, brewer, small business owner, former mayor of Denver and governor of Colorado. He is running for U.S. Senate.