How to stop the COVID-19 epidemic? Harvard doctors say cheap tests are the answer.


Dr. Michael Mina thinks there is an easy way to defeat COVID-19: fast, cheap tests, taken home every day or two.


Right now, the tests are designed for medical purposes. They identify whether a person with symptoms has COVID-19. But they remember – according to Mina’s estimate – 97% of people when they are the most contagious.

COVID-19, we now know, is the most contagious in the first few days – before a person shows symptoms and the symptoms begin after a few days, if they ever do. Waiting until someone has symptoms before scheduling them for testing means that they do not know they were contagious until they are.

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In recent weeks, Meena, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, has been vigorously lobbying for rapid, cheap, home-grown tests, receiving funding from the federal government for her development and approval. Is hoping to remove obstacles. . He has spoken with senators, foreign leaders and company officials, who share the idea, but is disappointed by the administration’s inaction.

On Friday, he set his sight to reporters on a group zoom call. This is an edited version of what he said.

What is the difference between the current COVID-19 tests and what are you imagining?

The tests now being deployed are like deluxe espresso machines. These are tests that require instrumentation. It would have a large, large startup cost to operate and each individual test would be expensive. He will have a difficult time, where he will need scale to make an impact at the population level. What I really want is the instant coffee version. I need $ 1 for a $ 20 thing.

How can tests be used to prevent transmission of COVID-19?

The way to do this is to use cheap tests that are highly accurate to detect a person at the time they are transmitting. People can act on it, because they are getting immediate results. I want them to take them every single day or every other day.

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How could they act on it?

If we can get a test that everyone wakes up to – like they put in their contact lenses – then they take a test. And if it turns positive, they stay home. And they take a test the next day and they stay in the house until the test turns negative, or for a set number of days, maybe 7 days.

This alone, if everyone is doing it, or even just the majority of people, is going to stop the vast majority of broadcasts and it will make these outbreaks disappear in just a few weeks. We do not have to wait for a vaccine.

Do you think it will make much difference?

We can probably reduce transmission in this country by 90–95% in the next few weeks if everyone can do one of these tests tomorrow. Of course, this is not possible at the moment, but it may be that the federal government is assuming with the same urge that they are treating a vaccine, which may or may not work.

What do you think the government should do?

(The government) should really insist on technology for a $ 1 billion paper strip test that can be printed in millions, which they can be, and get a package of 50 in the hands of every American in the next month It may – or not even Americans – it could be Texas, Arizona and Florida right now, because they are states that are spreading the infection to other states.

Why do these tests not already exist?

We are allowing red tape and this archaic view – we have so much disregarded public health in this country for so many years and appreciated that we literally do not recognize the fact that there could be a test that The main goal is not public health and clinical medicine. Everything as a diagnosis is wrapped up in insurance reimbursement and FDA regulations. It completely rethinks what a test one can use to look like and how it is defined.

So, is this a regulatory problem?

I am not usually against regulation, but it has reached a very extreme point here, and it has actually been a hindrance at every stage of our ability to test our way out of this virus since February. The current scenario is hindering these companies in what could today be a cheap test in the manufacture of an expensive espresso machine, as they cannot actually legally use instant coffee.

Until the regulatory landscape changes, there is no reason for these companies to try to bring (fast, cheap, in-house testing) to the market. Therefore, many of them are sitting on it. Or they are trying to spend more time and more money for better and better optimization tests, which can take months. My fear is that what will come out of it at the end of those months is a test that meets FDA approval, but is too expensive and too complicated to scale and use for all.

How do you respond to those who criticize cheap tests that are less accurate or reliable than current tests?

A lot of people are wasting time trying to figure out how to get instant coffee to be as good as espresso. They are different things.

Do you have any financial stake in any of the companies making these tests?

I have no financial relationship or any other relationship with any of these companies. I really based on science.

And do you really think that this is the best hope for dealing with the epidemic?

We have no vaccine tomorrow. We have nothing but to shut down the economy and keep schools closed. It can work. It is a device that can start going into production tomorrow and within a few weeks to change the entire course of the outbreak in major cities in the US and in doing so, make all the United States safer. .

Contact Karen Wintrab at [email protected]

Health and patient safety coverage at USA Today is made possible in part by grants from the Massimo Foundation for Ethics, Innovation and Competition in Healthcare. The Mashimo Foundation does not provide editorial input.

This article originally appeared on USA Today: How to Stop the COVID-19 Pandemic? Harvard doctors say cheap tests are the answer.

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