How rapid, inexpensive tests could help curb COVID-19

Given delays getting results from the most commonly used test to diagnose COVID-19—the PCR test—some experts are hoping for a rapid, low-cost test for the disease that could deliver results within 10 minutes.

Frequent testing “could be one of our most important interventions as we come into the fall to prevent large outbreaks from happening,” said Stephen Kissler, research fellow at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, in a July 26, 2020 USA Today article.

Rapid, low-cost diagnostic tests, similar to at-home pregnancy tests, are technologically feasible and are currently in development. Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, told USA Today that although rapid tests can be imprecise, sometimes missing people with low levels of virus in their system, frequent testing would almost certainly catch positive cases as viral levels rise in people with burgeoning infections.

Mina noted that companies are holding back from pursuing approval of rapid tests because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has signaled concern about their accuracy.

“No one is stepping forward because the message they are receiving clearly from the FDA is that the tests must approach the analytical sensitivity of PCR,” said Mina. “But this should not be the criteria. It neglects how the tests are used.”

Read the USA Today article: A quick, cheap test would help stop COVID-19. So why don’t we have one?