Going full Irish on Covid testing fiasco

Los Angeles-based Dr. Susan Butler-Wu.


By Ray O’Hanlon

“It’s a disgrace!”

With just those three words Susan Butler-Wu cut through all the drivel and nonsense that has been spouted about Covid-19 testing across the United States.

When the history of the Coronavirus pandemic is written, the country, unfortunately, is not going to come out as a shining beacon of light in the world.

Hopefully, at the very least, stark lessons will be learned and the United States will be ready and more coordinated next time.

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For the time being, however, we have been hearing the term “patchwork quilt” a lot. This is a polite way of saying shambles.

Dr. Butler-Wu would not take issue with this. She is blunt and plain spoken, sometimes to a fault she readily admits.

She attributes this trait, at least in part, to the fact that she is Irish.

Right now, however, she is living and working in California while missing her Irish family who are out of reach back in Dublin during the international lockdown.

Dr. Butler-Wu is an Associate Professor of Clinical Pathology at the Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California. She is also a clinical microbiology lab director in her adopted home town, Los Angeles, and has previously lived and studied in New York and Boston.

She has been in much demand of late for her views on Covid-19 testing, both due to her professional standing and, more than likely, because she also tells it like it is during interviews.

On Tuesday evening of this week, Dr. Butler-Wu was interviewed on CNN and told viewers that doctors have had to prioritize testing the sickest patients because of a dearth of supplies.

Her lab, according to the CNN report, recently put in an order for 1,000 medical swabs and ended up receiving just 100 - enough to do about two days of tests. Other orders have been canceled outright.

"Literally, every day, we're counting our swabs and craving for more," Dr. Butler-Wu said during the interview.

Added the report’s online text: “At the same time, three of the country's largest commercial labs - Quest Diagnostics, LabCorp and BioReference Laboratories - told CNN they have sufficient supplies overall, with an association that represents them saying they were ready to conduct more tests.

“Documents obtained by CNN through a public records request suggest that the federal government plans to prioritize the distribution of supplies to large commercial labs, even as hospitals say they're starved for supplies.”

Butler-Wu said that if the government and manufacturers were prioritizing commercial and regional labs at the expense of smaller hospital labs that would be "deeply troubling" and "contrary to all the principles of optimal patient care."

She said hospitals can get tests back for their patients far faster from their in-house labs than by sending samples to the big corporate labs. And an early test result can help get patients the potentially life-saving therapies they need sooner.”

Dr. Butler-Wu’s bottom line on all this? Yes indeed: “it’s a disgrace.”

Back in March, Dr. Butler-Wu was interviewed by the BBC which, in a report pointed out that the the World Health Organization had approved a coronavirus test in January, but that the U.S. had decided against using it, and instead had the CDC develop its own test.

In February, according to the BBC report, the CDC despatched testing kits across the U.S. - but some of them didn't work properly and this led to inconclusive results.

Stated the report: “The fact that the U.S. has a ‘siloed’ healthcare system, with various public and private health providers and laboratories, has also made testing more complicated, says Susan Butler-Wu.”

Dr. Butler-Wu told the BBC: “There is not a co-ordinated clinical response that can be rolled out, like there was in South Korea. We have no such thing as a national plan for testing."

Instead, the report continued, many large laboratories have had to develop their own laboratory tests and seek emergency clearance from U.S. regulators, which can be an "onerous" process, she says.

If ever there was a tine for a smooth process this is it. “Onerous” doesn’t cut it.

Dr. Butler-Wu, who is from Killiney in Dublin, will be interviewed again. Bet on it!

And if you happen to catch her on TV be hopeful that she angles her laptop as she did in the CNN interview.

Just about every home-based TV interviewee in the recent, fraught, weeks have been seated with bookshelves in the background.

The CNN interview of Dr. Butler-Wu showed a mantlepiece in the background with various decorative pieces.

And one other thing.

A large green poster with words on it.

Notwithstanding Susan Butler-Wu’s Irish way of telling it like it is in a hard time, there’s a bit of an optimist behind all the words pointing to our current, most difficult, reality.

The poster proclaimed: "Feck It Sure It’s Grand.”

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