Hot topics | Coronavirus pandemic

How to fight COVID, repeatedly: Rapid tests: How to fight COVID: How to take a step back:

How to fight COVID, repeatedly: Rapid tests: How to fight COVID: How to take a step back:

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Omicron isn't the only variant we'll be faced with, and that's important to remember.

So how can we take off wave after wave of COVID while still returning to normal life?

One important aspect of the answer might be to get into a scientific field we've mostly neglecteda tool that many other wealthy countries have made great use of: rapid tests.

Private insurers will soon begin paying at-home, rapid-test costs, and the administration will give free tests to clinics that handle low-income residents, as part of a larger pandemic plan.

But, if a wildly limiting tool becomes a game-changer, that's unlikely to be enough.

Michael Mina, who was an assistant professor of epidemiology at Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health and a physician at Brigham and Womens Hospital, worked with biochemists, computer scientists, and others to crouch the numbers and show how America might appear different if we had greater access to rapid tests, which you can do yourself using a nasal swab (results take about 15 minutes).

Their answer is yes.


Even if only some Americans tested once per week, rapid tests would capture lots of infectious people, and if those people didn't go out on the days when they were most infectious, spreading of the virus could be radically reduced.

Recognizing this benefit to public health, the UK, Germany, and many other nations have, at different times, contributed to their populations, and when the tests were not free, they were generally cheap and readily accessible.

Which is totally correct.

Flooding the area with quick tests enables schools to reopen quickly (or never close at all), work meetings to occur in-person, and family gatherings to be more safe.

The answer is why the United States has so lent to approve rapid tests, which might be a super-affordable method for the government to keep the economy running and cope with successive virus waves.

Johannes Fruehauf, CEO of LabCentral in Cambridge and cofounder of Mission BioCapital, informed me that he recently went to Germany and completed a fast test for roughly 80 cents.

When I drew about this week, I found that both of my local pharmacies offered two-packs of tests for $23.99 (though one pharmacy was out of stock).

When your child brushes their teeth, Fruehauf, who's also a medical doctor, believes that you should be able to give your child a COVID test.

Doing that three times a week in Germany at 80 cents a test would set you back less than $10 per child. Doing that three times a week in the United Statesat $12 a testwould set you back more than $140 per child.

Remember that Germany has given away a large number of tests for free.

With a population of about 330 million people in the United States, this would necessitate the development of hundreds of millions or billions of tests floating around.

How did we get here? Why do we stand down to Omicron, being unable to quickly and inexpensively identify particularly infectious people?

Mina, who's now the chief science officer at eMed Digital Healthcare, which assists with at-home COVID testing, told me that the FDA hadn't adjusted to the reality that we were having a novel coronavirus last year.

Not much has changed since the FDA, he adds, no one has changed. To this day, the FDA, I would say, has barely adjusted.

Mina feels that the FDA should have recognized: Hey, there's an urgency here, and time is of the essence, .

Mina appeared as an adviser to the prime minister's office in the UK shortly after the epidemic, but he was not able to do much to move the needle at home.

Instead, the United States has seized heavily on super-precise PCR tests, which typically involve a multiple-day wait, rendering the results worthless, albeit costly: What if you tested negative, but got infected while waiting for results, what if you tested positive, but dont have COVID anymore? What if you tested positive, but don't have COVID anymore?

Even though 15-minute tests are available, school districts frequently use such tests, forcing children to stay at home for days (sometimes weeks).

It ultimately puts a huge impact on the kid's learning ability and parents' often moms' capacity to return to work (or compete equally in the workplace).

Mina feels that the technology we're employ to keep COVID out of school often varies in effectiveness to fast tests.

What would you prefer to do: wear a mask for 10 hours today or 12 depending on what you're doing? Or spend 30 seconds to use a test? And if everyone spent 30 seconds to use a test, it would drastically cut down on transmission.

When it comes to rapid tests, the public is often concerned that one test may miss 5 percent of the cases.

But you say a mask employed for the same purpose misses 70 or 80 percent of people. Or a PCR test takes two or three days to return and effectively misses 40 or 50 percent of infectious days. I just don't know how to get people to realize that a 90 or 95 percent sensitive test employed at the beginning of every day is just extremely powerful to limit spread.

Masks are commonly thrown in busy restaurants, bars, and school lunchrooms, and the effectiveness of them is also limited, according to Harvard undergraduate Rebecca Cadenhead. (The coronavirus must know not to come into the [dining] hall, ")

whose colleagues at LabCentral have spent more than a year working on quick tests and have long used them to examine themselves, says Fruehauf, whose Cambridge team has detected numerous cases of COVID during their two-a-week tests, and their findings highlight one of the trickiest aspects about this novel coronavirus: people are frequently asymptomatic.

He noted that the majority of COVID workers were unaware that they had it, but they were able to avoid spreading it to others with a rapid test.

The FDA has refused to deliver these tests, and these firms, who are developing them to a very high standard, which are very difficult and sometimes impossible to test, with the objective that we, a population in the United States, are deprived of what would otherwise be a fantastic tool at a population level to assist control this disease, to bring us back to normal society, business, and clubs and things, Fruehauf stated.

He wishes offices and schools had the same rapid tests that his colleagues do, but he wants a test that allows us to take every student, every morning, before they go to school, Fruehauf stated. It. Done. A few cents.

Instead, the FDA has approved rapid tests from the few manufacturers that were able to surmount a slew of rules, turning the tests into a rare and costly commodity. The government could have stepped in to either cover the costs of tests or to churn out piles of them as an emergency measure, but it hasn't.

Mina believes that we'll continue to see variants for a long time something like Omicron was an inevitability, he believes but that with each new variant, the implications of that variant are going to sink.

He says that, after almost two years, the tide may be shifting on quick tests, but he is incredibly upset.

But "the reality," Mina says, is we won't see this massive infusion of tests that he's talking about unless we authorize a few more firms. So we don't want to say too little, too late, but we're 750,000 deaths too late, he adds.

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