Stopping the spread of COVID-19 with rapid tests

A multi-pronged public health strategy—including a national testing plan that uses widespread frequent rapid antigen tests—has the potential to stop the spread of the coronavirus, according to Michael Mina of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology and a faculty member in the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, has been advocating for months for the development of frequent rapid tests. Writing in detail about the tests in a November 17, 2020 article in Time magazine’s Ideas section, he discussed how they work, why they’re so crucial in fighting COVID-19, how much money they could save the U.S., and how to get them into every household in America.

Mina explained that antigen tests are inexpensive, simple to manufacture, easy to use, give results in minutes, and are extremely effective at detecting when people are most contagious with COVID-19. If enough people were provided with the tests and used them frequently, they’d know if they were contagious and could then isolate themselves to avoid spreading COVID-19 to others.

Mina cited the example of Slovakia, “where massive screening has, in two weeks, completely turned the epidemic around.” He said that even if only half the U.S. population used the tests, outbreaks could still be stopped in a matter of weeks.

Although antigen tests are not as accurate as the gold-standard PCR tests, Mina said that problem could be solved by requiring a second test to confirm original results. He explained that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hasn’t yet authorized at-home tests because the agency typically regulates medical devices, not public health screening tools—which is how rapid antigen tests should be used. “We need to create a new authorization pathway within the FDA (or the CDC) that can review and approve the use of at-home antigen testing, without these medical-centric barriers,” he wrote.

Read Michael Mina’s Time magazine article: How We Can Stop the Spread of COVID-19 By Christmas

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How rapid, inexpensive tests could help curb COVID-19 (Harvard Chan School news)