At-home COVID-19 testing could help in fight against pandemic

At-home COVID-19 tests could help bring the pandemic under control in the U.S., medical experts say.

Quicker and more accessible testing is key to controlling the coronavirus until vaccines are ready. At-home tests meant to do that are on the sidelines right now, still awaiting approval.

More than 100,000 new cases are being reported across the country every day, and that number is climbing.

“Give it another two weeks after that – we might hit 400,000,” said Dr. Michael Mina, an epidemiologist at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

“We’ve essentially allowed this virus to get so far out of control that we are now going to start seeing lockdowns.”

But Mina said we can bring our numbers down without such devastating measures. All we have to do is put the “public” back in “public health” and let people screen themselves.

“Getting rapid testing into the homes, into everyone’s home in America so that they can know their status on a frequent basis and stop their onward transmission,” he said.

The Harvard researcher said the strategy is cheap, effective and convenient.

“Give it to them so that they can brush their teeth and then take a COVID test twice every week.”

Not everyone is convinced.

Dr. John Brooks with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it’s an innovative idea, but “We’d like to have some more research around how people – what their intentions are, and what they actually do when they engage in that kind of testing.”

Another hurdle is the Federal Drug Administration.

“There’s a lot of companies who are building tools and building the manufacturing capacity to potentially do this, but we continue to see no progress at the level of the FDA,” Mina said.

In a statement, the FDA acknowledged that testing outside of health care settings is crucial to fighting the pandemic. The agency is working with developers on those tests, but none have been authorized yet.

“We need to have the FDA change its authorization pathways to allow the companies that are making these potential public health tools that can sit in people’s homes – to allow them to get through,” Mina said.

He said that even if half of the people who take the at-home test and test positive ignore their results, the plan could still work.

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