I have been listening carefully in recent months to Dr Michael Mina, Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at Harvard. What I can’t understand is why few people in power for the COVID response seem to be doing so. For months he has been talking about the gap in COVID testing, and the fundamental errors of looking at COVID only in a medical dimension, rather than a public health one. In my honest and humble opinion, I fully agree with him.
Once again in a recent podcast on PIVOT with Kara Swisher and Scott Galloway he talks about how easy it would be to produce millions and millions of simple litmus paper type tests for COVID. These could be sent out to every household immediately and cheaply, and would allow EVERYBODY to test for COVID in five minutes or so from their homes a few times a week. Now these are simple tests that are not as accurate as the sophisticated PCR tests that also require a week or more for results. But that does not matter! They are highly sensitive when people are at their most infectious, which from a public health point of view is what you need so that people KNOW THEIR STATUS. If everybody tested themselves with a simple paper strip type test as Dr. Mina describes, they could immediately know if they were infectious or not. Even if they had no symptoms, as many often do. But with that knowledge in hand, you would know to isolate yourself from contact with others for 7-10 days.
This ALONE would be enough to sharply cut the cycle of transmission of the COVID 19 virus. Even without vaccines or pending their eventual arrival. Think of that. What could we accomplish with that, by cheaply and easily being able to know our status and to be empowered to act. This could literally help save hundreds of thousands of lives. The key thing here is that once again, KNOWLEDGE IS POWER. If you know for sure you are very likely to be infected AND contagious, you can avoid harm to others.
Another huge advantage to this is that it reduces the burden on vaccines and allows for much sooner economic reopenings. If we can have confidence that 80 or 90% of the people are testing regularly and keeping themselves distant and isolated if they come back with a temporarily positive result, it helps stop transmission very quickly.
Also you may have heard in the past couple days that there are actually production shortages of key reagents for manufacturing the newest messenger RNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna. They need some of the same chemicals that go into the PCR testing that is underway. If you have massive testing available to people to do 3 times a week with the simple litmus paper tests for contagion, there would be far less need for those reagents for the PCR testing, and thus less stress on the manufacturing supply chain for the vaccines.
Consider the simple things at play in following a public health education approach to containing COVID rather than relying solely on a heavy medicalized approach! Mina has been talking about this to NIH and the COVID task force for months. He’s been interviewed on CNN multiple times and has also joined podcasts to explain his proposal. And yet it has fallen on deaf ears while we waste thousands of lives and billions of dollars on fruitless and unhelpful interventions. There is nothing partisan about this. This type of universal testing, at home by people with the litmus paper tests, would even diminish the negative impact we have had with so many refusing to wear masks effectively and universally. Isn’t it worth a try?