Frequent and extensive testing also makes contact tracing easier to reduce transmission. South Korea, for example, initially stopped its COVID-19 outbreak without bans, thanks in part to an optimized, accessible test and contact tracking system. “This is the model that we need here in the US,” says Cannuscio. Fast, ubiquitous tests are “the key to opening things because we don’t have to rely on widespread locks,” says Kissler.
There is a lot of evidence to suggest that more intense testing results in better control of the spread of the coronavirus. For evidence, look at the US tests and case numbers against a few other countries. A high number of tests per confirmed case indicates a country has adequate testing in place, says Dr. Wyllie. At press time, the 7-day average of tests performed per confirmed case in the US was 1
The volume of tests varies widely by location, but according to Johns Hopkins, only 23 states meet the “Recommended Positivity Levels” of 5 percent or less of all tests that are positive. “[With high positivity rates]You can be pretty sure that you will miss a lot of cases and not catch them fast enough to control the outbreak, ”says Kissler.
This new guide is just the latest example of how the US screwed up COVID-19 testing.
Coronavirus testing in the US has been a mess from the start. Complex and changing test guidelines “created confusion not only for consumers but also for professionals,” says Cannuscio. At one point, the CDC increased the number of tests by combining viral and antibody COVID-19 tests in official counts. We also had a persistent shortage of adequate supplies and laboratories, which has resulted in persistent delays in test results, Kissler says. (In some cases, contaminated test kits have contributed to delays.) “With some delays, we will continue to see a subset of people who will appear in our emergency rooms … and who will die,” says Cannuscio.
Many other countries routinely return COVID-19 test results within a day or two. According to reports, some Americans wait weeks for their results while they may inadvertently infect employees, family members, and other people they encounter. “A negative person could be tested and then exposed [and] get sick … in the time it takes to get the first negative test back, ”said Dr. Michael Mina, Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.
Some wealthy colleges and corporations have tried to fill testing gaps by offering regular testing to students and staff. “However, this is likely to compound the differences in COVID-19,” says Cannuscio.
Fortunately, the future of COVID-19 testing has some bright spots.
Imagine if you could test yourself at home for a few dollars before going to the office or getting on a plane. Experts hope we are on the right track. Current tests require trained personnel and expensive instruments. “We need a new paradigm in testing: cheap, rapid, daily tests that are used by most people in areas where outbreaks occur,” says Dr. Mina. “If 50 percent of people use this test every three days … we estimate it can contain and suppress outbreaks in weeks.”