Dr. Michael Mina suggests that there is a simple way to beat COVID-19: fast, cheap tests, done at home every day or two.
Right now, tests are designed for medical purposes. They determine if someone with symptoms has COVID-19. But they miss out – according to Mina estimates – 97% of people when they’re most infectious.
COVID-19, as we know it, is most contagious during the first few days – just before a person develops symptoms and for a few days after symptoms start, if they have. Wait until someone has symptoms before scheduled a test, meaning they won’t know they have been infected until they don’t get sick.
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In recent weeks, Mina, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, has been campaigning heavily for fast, cheap, at-home tests, hoping to get the federal government. fund their development and remove barriers to their approval. . He has spoken to senators, foreign leaders and company executives who share the idea, but are increasingly frustrated by the government’s actions.
On Friday, he presented his vision to reporters during a group Zoom call. What follows is a modified version of what he said.
What’s the difference between the current COVID-19 test and what you are envisioning?
The trials underway now look like premium espresso machines. These are instrumental tests required. There will be a big, big startup cost for it to work, and each individual test will be very expensive. They will have difficulty getting scale to where it is needed to make an impact on population levels. What I really want is the instant coffee version. I want $ 1 versus $ 20.
How can the test be used to stop COVID-19 infusion?
The way to do that is to use inexpensive high-precision tests to detect someone at the moment they’re broadcasting. People can act because they get immediate results. I want them to take them every day or every other day.
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How can they act on it?
If we could get a test that everyone woke up – like if they put their contact lenses on – they would take the test. And if it turns positive, they stay home. And they do the test the next day and they stay home until the test turns negative, or for certain days, maybe 7 days.
Just that, if everyone was doing it, or even the majority of people were doing it, it would stop the majority of transmission and it would make these outbreaks disappear in a matter of weeks. . We don’t have to wait for vaccines.
Do you think it will make a lot of difference?
We can reduce transmission in this country by 90-95% over the next few weeks if everyone can do one of these tests tomorrow. Of course, that’s not possible at the moment, but it could be if the federal government is handling the problem with the same urgency as if they were on a vaccine, maybe or even not. work.
What do you think government should do?
(The government should) invest $ 1 billion to really push the technology for $ 1 paper strip tests that can be printed for millions of dollars, which they can have and get a bundle of 50 to every American next month – or even not every US – could be Texas, Arizona, and Florida right now, because those are the states that are planting the germs of other states.
Why didn’t these tests exist?
We’re permitting the use of this red tape and this ancient stance – we’ve underestimated and underestimated public health in this country for so many years that we really didn’t acknowledge the fact that there is. There may be an examination with the main goal of public health, not clinical medicine. Everything is encapsulated in insurance claims and FDA regulations as diagnostics. There is a need to completely rethink what a test someone might use looks like and how it is defined.
So is this a regulatory issue?
I’m usually not against the rule, but it’s been getting too serious here, and it’s actually getting in the way of every step on our path to get rid of this virus since February. The current landscape is clogging companies that can have a cheap test today in making a more expensive espresso machine, because they really can’t legally use instant coffee. .
Until the regulatory landscape changes, these companies have no reason to try to bring (a quick, cheap, home test) to market. So a lot of them just sit on it. Or they’re trying to spend more time and money optimizing their tests better and better, which can take months. I fear that what will happen at the end of those months is a test that will meet FDA approval, but it’s too expensive and too complicated to expand and use for everyone.
How do you answer those who criticize the cheap tests as less accurate or reliable than the current tests?
Lots of people are wasting time figuring out how to get good instant coffee like espresso. They are different things.
Do you have a financial stake in any company that does these tests?
I have no financial ties or any other relationship with any of these companies. I’m really just based on science.
And do you really think this is the best hope for a pandemic?
We don’t have a vaccine tomorrow. We have nothing but economic shutdowns and schools shutdown. This can work. This is a tool that tomorrow could start to go into production and within the next few weeks could start to change whole course of outbreaks in major US cities and do so, making the whole of America is safer.
Contact Karen Weintraub at email@example.com
Patient safety and health insurance at USA TODAY is made possible in part by a grant from the Masimo Foundation for Health Care Ethics, Innovation and Competition. The Masimo Foundation does not provide editorial input.
This article initially appeared in USA TODAY: How to prevent the COVID-19 pandemic? Dr. Harvard says that cheap tests are the answer.
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