Right now, Rhode Island is the state that is running the highest level of testing and a rate of on Friday 13.6 tests per 1,000 population. The number of states that have handled a pandemic well, such as Vermont and Hawaii, have varied their testing rate as they have kept the number of positive results below 3%.
If you look around the world, some other test rates don’t seem that impressive at first. For example, South Korea has conducted fewer than 3 million tests in total. That means their testing rate is almost ten times lower than in the US. However, South Korea ran a program of targeted testing and case-tracking that hit infected areas hard as soon as the outbreaks broke out, quickly tracking down any possible contacts. This system has allowed South Korea to deal with any new outbreak and quickly suppress the number of cases before it becomes a generalized epidemic.
At the other end of the scale, Iceland got big. Their goal is to test everyone, and they were well on their way to achieving that when they counted the case down to the point where they could solve the problem with more limited testing. The tiny Faroe Islands of 49,000 people have made Iceland better. They all tested there at least three times. Unsurprisingly, the number of cases was … pretty small.
But what researchers from Harvards School of Public Health and the University of Colorado Boulder The team suggests testing a completely different order. Like testing half the population of the United States every week. Repeated. As with all tests performed so far, this is every week.
Before you think about how infinitely long the LA test queue would be under this type of scheme, however, the Harvard team doesn’t talk about the type of tests that involve rolling your car to a clinic or a technician to explore How close can someone get to your brain by inserting a cotton swab up your nose. A critical part of the proposal is that these are cheap and quick self-administered tests that give almost instant results.
This type of test is already available, but there has been a major concern about the rate of false positive and false negative results that these tests can produce. But the new study says … that’s okay. Because, as military planners know, quantity has its own quality.
“Our overall picture is that it is better for public health to have a less sensitive test with results today than a more sensitive test with results tomorrow,” said lead author Daniel Larremore.
One of the goals of this study was to generate an answer that could not only be a self-test but also a self-control. People who get a positive test could put themselves in quarantine. If the level of testing were massive enough, the need for a central authority to coordinate test results and contact testing would disappear. Because if people just do the right thing … and … and …
Yes, that would definitely be the point at which the numerical analysis of the paper seems to hit its nose right into the wall of what we see on the streets every day. This is the nation where people not only slide across stalls in their low grocery store in protest against mask donning, but watch Donald Trump and a long line of other Republican politicians absolutely refuse to give a straight answer, when she first received positive test results for COVID-19. While it is perfectly certain that a very high testing rate would more than compensate for the kind of single digit inaccuracies in the results of these rapid tests, it is very much not certain what would happen if 20, 30% or 50% of the population refused easy to follow the tests, or worse, isolate yourself if she got a positive result.
On paper, the kind of mass tests the researchers describe would absolutely destroy the pandemic in a short amount of time.
In a scenario where 4% of people in a city were already infected, rapid tests performed by three out of four people every three days reduced the number of people ultimately infected by 88% and “was enough to make the epidemic die out within six weeks bring to”.
But if these rapid tests require people to exercise responsible self-regulation, it might as well include a national distribution of Unobtanium.
However, the widespread use of rapid tests coupled with expanded oversight, mask mandates, and coordinated contract tracking could definitely impact the pandemic, even in the period between the start of Biden’s tenure and the general availability of vaccines. A packet of rapid tests and a six-pack of masks sent to every home in America could be exactly the national admission we need before we can all get a more personal admission.