Mass COVID-19 testing is a waste of time and resources. I know this goes against everything we’ve been hearing on CNN and the CBC News, but hear me out. The statement, as provocative as it is, is based on a conversation I recently had with a friend of mine who is a member of Canada’s scientific research community.
Although my friend is not personally involved in the COVID-19 research, she is in regular contact with those who are and she has been asked to provide input into some of their work.
The reason why mass testing is a waste of time and resources, besides the fact that we just don’t have enough tests, is that the test will either indicate you’re positive for the virus or negative.
If the test indicates you are positive, then you are very likely already exhibiting symptoms. If you are among the low risk group – being under 60 with no underlying health conditions – then you will be told to stay home and ride out the virus, which you should have been doing in the first place before you wasted a test on yourself.
If the test comes out negative, meaning you don’t have the virus at the time you were tested, it doesn’t mean that you are immune from contracting the virus the next day or the day after that.
Mass testing is great for collecting and gathering data, but it is also a highly expensive and inefficient way to find out who among us is asymptomatic.
The reason why it is inefficient is based on the inability to conduct mass testing on the scale necessary to be effective. The next time someone says we need mass testing ask them to define “mass”. Take Ottawa for example. To adequately mass test you need to test everyone at once. If you only test one half of the city and then go to test the other half, all those who tested negative could still contract the virus from those in the other half of the city and community spread starts all over again.
The other issue is practicality. How do we conduct mass testing when the masses are self-isolating in their houses? Go door to door?
The limited number of tests we have should only be used on front-line health care workers and those within the high-risk groups as soon as they start exhibiting symptoms and before the symptoms devel-op into viral pneumonia.
Many of us will eventually contract the COVID-19 virus before a vaccine is available in a year or so. We will become ill, suffer through the symptoms and get better. Along the way, we will develop our own immunity. Having immunity will be like a super power. You will no longer have to fear spreading the virus to others. How liberating would that beIt’s also an undeniable fact that the more people who become immune, the safer the rest of the population will be. The key is in trying to find out who has immunity especially among individuals who were asymptomatic and are no longer contagious.
It is also highly useful to know whether or not you just had the COVID-19 virus or a bad cold. The symptoms for both are almost identical, but if you just had the flu you can still contract the COVID-19 virus. If you had the virus you are now immune.
There is a team of researchers in Canada who are working on a blood test that will identify individuals who already had the virus and are therefore immune from spreading it to others. The blood test will be much easier to administer and way cheaper than the nasal swab test being used to identify the COVID-19 virus.
The test is the brainchild of a virologist named Florian Krammer from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. It identifies a spike in certain proteins in the blood that are an identifier for COVID-19.
The purpose of Krammer’s research was, and still is, to develop a serum that could be used in the treatment of the virus. But there is a major side benefit. The survivors of a disease keep antibodies for that particular viral pathogen in their blood which makes them immune from future infections. How long they are immune varies from virus to virus. But the blood test can be used to identify those who had the COVID-19 virus and are now immune, meaning they can no longer spread the virus to others. This will become immensely important to know once they start lifting the current restrictions.
Kramer’s lab published the methods for the blood test on March 18. Within three days, 50 labs around the world including here in Canada had requested the fragment of viral RNA he used to make the spike protein and samples of the spike protein itself, which he sent to them. Researchers are hopeful to have the method refined enough to start testing by mid-April.
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