The U.S. must increase its testing capabilities for the new coronavirus before the economy can restart, Dr. Robert Bollinger of Johns Hopkins University told CNBC on Tuesday.
Specifically, the U.S. needs more rapid testing and a better system of contact tracing to determine who has been infected by COVID-19 and who has not, Bollinger said on “Power Lunch.”
Improvement in those areas, along with existing social distancing efforts, will “truly allow us to move the economy forward, get back to work,” said Bollinger, an infectious diseases professor at Johns Hopkins’ medical school.
Bollinger said the U.S. has begun to make progress on contact tracing, pointing to an initiative announced Tuesday by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan that focuses on using the strategy to limit spread in the state’s nursing homes.
Bollinger also noted new efforts in Massachusetts launched by Gov. Charlie Baker. The state is partnering with a Boston-based nonprofit, Partners in Health, to hire around 1,000 people to conduct the contact tracing program, according to public radio station WBUR.
The strategy involves contacting everyone who tested positive and then contacting those with whom they’ve had close interaction in recent days, according to WBUR.
Robust contact tracing was one strategy used in China to help contain the spread of the coronavirus, Bollinger said.
“The virus is not going to go away until we have a vaccine, so we’re always going to have to find strategies to deal with this, to prevent the next wave,” Bollinger said.
Testing for COVID-19 in the U.S. was beset by early challenges that included restrictive testing criteria, but capacity has grown in recent weeks. Nearly 2 million people in the U.S. have been tested as of Tuesday afternoon, according to the COVID Tracking Project.
There are 383,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. and more than 12,000 people have died as of Tuesday afternoon, according to Johns Hopkins University.
An even more complete understanding of the U.S. outbreak would be determined by more testing, Bollinger said.
“Currently our biggest issue is the lack of testing opportunities. I think if we had more testing available people would take advantage of it, and I think that really would be helpful to get a better handle on what the statistics actually are at this moment,” he said.