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Testing Is Not a Panacea, In Fact It Can Create Fear

I was a hard-over believer in 100% testing until last week. The business where I work is deemed (and in fact, is) an essential activity. We are not health care workers, or first responders, and actually, we don’t deal with the public at all. But most of our workers have to come in because of the nature of what we do, and as a senior executive, I have not missed a single day of work at the office since the pandemic hit.

(No, I can’t tell you where I work. No, it’s not food processing.)

Until last week, I was debating whether to leverage some political connections to get all our workers tested. But then a coworker persuaded me that’s not going to be helpful. Her argument was simple: tests only cover one point in time, and set up a mental picture based on fear. If I’m tested today, will I get the virus tomorrow? If my coworkers are tested today, will they get it tomorrow and give it to me?

Today’s news that Vice President Mike Pence first decided to self-isolate, then changed his decision, due to a staffer testing positive for COVID-19 reminded me of the wisdom of not being tethered to these fears. It makes sense that personnel in the White House or with access to top administration officials–the President and Vice President, should be tested frequently. In fact, Dr. Anthony Fauci decided to enter a “modified self-quarantine” as a result of the same officials positive test. As I have written before, everyone has their own tolerance for risk, and Dr. Fauci’s caution does not mean Pence’s decision is foolhardy.

Not everyone in the nation can be tested every day like the Vice President. If I had gotten my way and arranged for every worker at our business to be tested, what would happen when the first person had to be quarantined after the testing? We’d all have to test again. And again. And we’d all live in chains to those tests, suspicious and fearful of everyone and everything.

That’s not a good way to live. It’s stressful beyond the elevated stress of dealing with the virus in the first place. Perhaps some, knowing they tested negative, would let up on countermeasures, like vigorous hand-washing, sanitizer, and social distancing. And those who tested positive would become pariahs, never able to be fully trusted even when they have no symptoms for days and weeks.

Every business, and I stress this, every business, will eventually have to deal with someone who has symptoms, gets tested, and may be found positive for COVID-19 (if you want to get pedantic, I don’t mean sole proprietorships). Crippling fear makes it easy to “blame” these individuals for bringing a sickness into our midst, but it could just as easily have been you when you tipped the Uber Eats driver the other day and realized you only had a $20 and asked for change. You touched cash–or the box the food was in could have had the virus on it.

Nobody can live 100% totally safe from coronavirus. It’s here, it spreads easily, and it’s impossible to eliminate all of the risk. Following the CDC recommendations about social distancing, hand washing, and basic sanitization can severely reduce the risk, and slow the spread to the point where contact tracing, isolation, and treatment will bring the new case count down to a very low number.

In the meantime, we can’t all turtle up in our shells to the point where we have to depend on welfare for basic living needs. We have to open up, and that means, slowly, accepting some risk, and shedding fear. The opposite of fear is faith–and the outworking of faith and human imagination is wisdom.

As one of my pastors said this morning, it’s not fear when she sees a snake near her foot, to avoid or kill the snake (especially in Georgia, where every other snake seems to be venomous). It’s not fear when we live stream our church service instead of coming in close contact. It’s not fear when we wear a mask when shopping. These are individual decisions guided by wisdom. Flamboyant demonstrations of “faith” by doing unwise and reckless things are not really demonstrations of fearlessness. They are foolish, and God is not a fan of fools.

It’s fascinating to me that the conditions on the ground are not going to change significantly in the next 30 to 60 days, yet people want to wait that length of time before leaving the house again. The virus will still be out there. We still don’t know if a stranger has it, or the person who walked in the Kroger aisle just before we did, and picked up that box of crackers we just put in our cart had a 101 fever. We can’t know all the public places we might go aren’t infected, but we can take wise countermeasures.

We can know that we test negative, and maybe that some of our coworkers or family members in close contact have tested negative at one point. But we can’t be like those in the White House and test every day. I wonder if that’s what some who argue against reopening really want. They acknowledge that 66% of New Yorkers who contracted COVID-19 were sheltering at home when they got it. Living in fear means placing an ever-tightening noose around our lives.

The reason for the delay is simply fear. Let someone else go out and see if they get it. Let someone else be the first to go eat in the dining room at Steak & Shake. If these decisions are made because of a risk factor, then yes, it’s wisdom for those over 60, or with some other comorbidity to want to have assurance that countermeasures are working. But if we all remain locked in until “someone else” tests the system, we will never open up.

As one of the people who has little choice but to go to work every day, I understand the fear. I understand that some of our employees have voluntarily given up their jobs rather than come in. We, at my company at least, are all doing our best to make our workplace as safe as anyone’s living room. But providing 100% testing would only serve to undermine those efforts.

Testing should be abundant, available, efficient, and fast. If you need a test, or just want one, it should be available. In Georgia, this is largely true. Now a disclosure I saved for the end. I got tested Saturday. I drove to the massive CVS facility at Georgia Tech, and in less than an hour from beginning to end, without ever leaving my car, I received my results. I tested negative.

That test was good for Saturday. It’s now Sunday, and tomorrow I go back to work. The test is good to know, but it doesn’t help me want to leave the house again. The only way to proceed is to not give in to fear, but also not to abandon wisdom. And, for those of us who believe in a loving, all-powerful God, we should fix our eyes on Him, not some test result, or some politician.


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