I wanted to start this topic a couple months ago, but am finally motivated after hearing today’s possibly wonderful news that Trump has tested positive. If anyone “deserves” to be infected with it, it is He and His Loyal, Denialist Minions. 🙂
I feel, as I’ll bet Bill Gates would who’s publicly predicted pandemics for at least a decade now, that Covid-19 is just a practice run for the future. (I’ll still focus on Covid-19 as a case illustration of our probable future.)
IMO we (and perhaps the world) has been suffering more than necessary because of 1) unpreparedness and 2) the continuing deficiency of prioritization of more massive testing regimes. Vaccinations and Trump’s actions/inactions make headlines, while our FDA and media lag behind on promotion and deployment of rapid tests.
The precision of PCR tests (which detect presence of a virus or remnants of it in patients) is overrated, especially when test results take such a long time to come back from overwhelmed laboratories. These tests are very expensive, $100 each or more, and results often aren’t timely enough to produce actionable data. An underrated potential of these sensitive tests is in using them to test pools or cohorts of the population instead of individuals. Laboratories could be less overwhelmed when several individuals at once can be tested with just one test; the actionable data on any positive result would then prompt individual retesting of pool members.
Meanwhile, less expensive and less precise tests remain imo severely underrated, especially when we’re trying to open schools and need rapid tests results every day. Such tests discover the immunological effects of viral infection, like the presence of antigens or antibodies. There’s an excellent explanation of how this kind of testing could work, originally pushed principally by Dr. Michael Mina of Harvard School of Health & Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics.
I highly recommend the following sources to learn about this kind of rapid test (as opposed to the similar Abbott tests pushed by POTUS):
Podcast This Week in Virology, episode #640 (or just use the player, below) from mid-July. (Over two months ago!) The episode is probably longer and more technical than most people would like to listen too, but Dr. Mina’s 33 minute contribution starts [i might have to correct these times soon] at 6:31 into the 1:45:41 podcast. (I consider this a historic moment in epidemiological science.)
Visit RapidTests.org, only a few short pages of succinct explanation. The “infectivity” graphic below came from there.
The following graph illustrates why Mina’s proposed kind of rapid test should be deployed everywhere, as an emergency measure (my words). Summarizing, the usefulness of antigen tests concerns how they can cheaply and quickly measure infectivity of each person. Imagine a test that costs only $1/day, which can be given to every school kid in the morning, with positive or negative result available within 20 minutes at home before it’s time for the kid to go to school!
Click for larger view (sorry I only know how to do this via imgur’s share embed function) or see it rapidtests.org: