Designing an Interstate Compact for a Pandemic Testing Board

Category: Planning
Author: Lisa Hansmann and Ganesh Sitaraman
Date: May 4th, 2020

Analysts have recently focused their attention on two pathways for the United States to reopen prior to the development of a vaccine for COVID-19. The first is to accept a series of rolling openings and closings: reopening as infection rates decrease, then reclosing as they rise again due to increased interactions. This approach is generally thought to be enormously costly both economically and socially, as people will be kept in their homes and commerce restrained for considerable amounts of time. The second approach is to massively ramp up the production of testing, either through a universal testing regime (which would require capacity to test all 300+ million Americans once a week) or a system of testing, tracing, and supported isolation (which would require testing 5 million Americans a day, plus tracing those who were in contact with the infected and isolating them). The testing pathway would enable the United States to reopen without having to close repeatedly and it would, as a result, save billions of dollars. The problem is that we do not have the number of tests necessary to pursue a testing pathway to reopening. Scaling up testing presents a variety of challenges. For instance, there are likely to be supply issues with respect to the tests’ underlying materials, or coordination problems that prevent supply and demand from linking as they should. And there will undoubtedly be logistical challenges with personnel and plans needed to deploy millions of tests per day. One solution to these challenges, which the Harvard Roadmap for Pandemic Resilience has outlined, is to create a single coordinating body—a Pandemic Testing Board—to be tasked with ensuring the necessary supply of tests, deploying those tests, and facilitating a tracing program. There are two ways to design this body. It could be a federal government institution, part of the Executive Branch. Or it could be built through an interstate compact, with federal appropriations but not federal administration. This paper offers a blueprint for how to design a pandemic testing board via an interstate compact.

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