NY Post: NYC officials rationing COVID test kits by race?

Is this a story about race-based policies, or just another example of the bad decisions that shortages inevitably create? The city of New York and the now-defunct administration of Bill de Blasio might have to answer for the former, but it’s the latter issue that created the alleged rationing strategies discovered by the New York Post.

In the end, this isn’t a woke or race-preference issue. It’s a leadership issue, and it’s one that goes well above the previous mayor’s office:

New York City health officials have been using race to help decide how to allocate precious coronavirus testing resources, leaked emails from the agency show.

In a conversation with reps for the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, City Councilman Joe Borelli’s office said constituents on Staten Island’s South Shore were having trouble getting tested at city facilities.

“Our office has been receiving calls regarding the mobile NYC H+H testing sites such as Wolfes Pond Park. It appears many are waiting with delays, and are being turned away after waiting for hours,” wrote Borelli staffer Briana Nasti in a Dec. 22 email.

The agency responded the same day and informed Nasti that they would prioritize neighborhoods flagged by the city’s Taskforce on Racial Inclusion & Equity.

Er … what? Why would that social-policy board have authority over a public-health pandemic sweeping across the entire city? Those rationing decisions — to which we’ll return in a moment — should be made by the city’s health department on the basis of public health as a whole. Instead, the DOHMH apparently has ceded this authority on a non-epidemiological basis.

If that sounds like politics overcoming “The Science,” the blathering and incomplete explanation of the methodology cements that impression, emphasis mine:

The task force said [neighborhoods] were picked based a DOHMH’s analysis of “health status, living conditions, social inequities, occupation, and COVID-19 Wave 1 impact” — though the methodology has never been released.

What exactly is the epidemiological science involving “social inequities”? Whatever it is, it apparently trumps actual case numbers and the potential for exponential transmission:

Staten Island’s mostly white, middle-class South Shore — despite one of the highest COVID rates in the city during December — is not one of the priority neighborhoods. The borough has 13 city testing sites, all on the more diverse North Shore.

The point of city-controlled testing sites is to tamp down outbreaks by identifying and isolating COVID infections. The rational way to direct those resources is to shift testing to areas of more intense outbreaks to identify as many COVID-positive people as quickly as possible. Assuming that the NY Post is correct about the South Shore’s relative rate of infection even with the limited testing now available, NYC should have taken an all-hands-on-deck approach to testing in that area to quickly tamp down the amplitude of the outbreak before South Shore residents could spread it to other areas of the city and state. Case loads and transmissions are the only scientific basis for rationing tests.

But that leads us to the real problem here, and why politics is just a symptom of it. The actual, fundamental problem is the shortage of tests and data collection resources, almost two full years into the global pandemic. If the US and New York had an abundance of tests in the same way we have an abundance of over-the-counter pregnancy tests, for example, there would be no need to ration at all. No central planning for distribution on the basis of past “social inequities” would even be contemplated, let alone necessary. And no one person or group would have control of the supply to the extent that it could be rationed for their own political, social, or economic benefit.

That’s clearly what’s happening here, if these e-mails accurately depict the rationing process. Political benefits have overtaken epidemiological benefits in the rationing process, and it’s pretty clear where those benefits are aimed — at the mayor’s office. However, the significant shortage of tests require rationing, and the city elected the mayor to make those decisions … as stupid, self-serving, and ultimately unconstitutional as they may be. That’s why shortage situations are dangerous in a long run, and yet another example of how power corrupts.

The test shortage didn’t originate at Gracie Mansion, though, nor in Albany. Neither the Trump nor Biden administrations took mass testing seriously for various reasons, but at least Donald Trump focused massive R&D resources onto the pandemic for vaccine creation, production, and distribution. The shortage curve for vaccines was remarkably brief — perhaps four months — and even then, rationing got used for political purposes. Remember how teachers demanded and received priority standing, not based on epidemiological or even economic science but on political muscle … and then still refused to return to classrooms? Imagine the rationing that may have taken place had that shortage curve lasted longer; significant demands for social-justice-flavored distribution models arose even in that brief period, readers may recall.

We’re now two years into a test shortage, with no end in sight, and the emergence of politicization shouldn’t come as a surprise. It took Joe Biden nearly a year to get serious on testing development, production, and distribution. By this point, it appears we won’t get enough of a supply to obviate rationing for at least several weeks if not several months, by which the current shock wave of Omicron transmission will have passed. That means that stupid rationing decisions based on whatever benefits political leaders in place at this moment will have to continue, likely all the way through the Omicron wave and potentially into whatever variant wave may come next. That will produce perverse outcomes such as the South Shore/North Shore rationing, but the “social inequities” manipulation will still only be a symptom, not the failure itself.

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