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



Dr. Michael Mina believes that there is a simple way to fight off COVID-19: a quick, cheap test at home for one or two days a day.


Currently, the test is designed for medical purposes. They determine whether people with symptoms have COVID-19. But according to Mina’s estimation, they miss 97% of people when they are most infectious.

We now know that COVID-19 is most infectious in the first few days-before a person has symptoms and in the days (if any) after symptoms begin. Wait until someone has symptoms before arranging them to be tested, which means they won’t be infected until they don’t know they are.

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In recent weeks, Mina, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Harvard’s Chenhe School of Public Health, has been vigorously lobbying for fast, cheap, home testing, hoping that the federal government will fund its development and remove obstacles to approval. . He has talked with senators, foreign leaders, and company executives. They all agreed with this view, but became increasingly frustrated by the government’s inaction.

On Friday, he presented his vision to reporters on the Zoom group conference call. Next is an edited version of what he said.

How is the current COVID-19 test different from what you envisioned?

The test being deployed now is like a luxury coffee machine. These are the tests that need to be checked. To make it continue, there will be a large startup cost, and each individual test will be expensive. It is difficult for them to expand the scale to the extent that they affect the population level. What I really want is instant coffee. I want something for $1 instead of $20.

How can the test be used to stop the transmission of COVID-19?

The way to do this is to use cheap tests that are very accurate and can detect someone when someone is transmitting. People can take action on this because they are getting immediate results. I hope they take it once a day or every other day.

More: “Totally unacceptable”: Test delays force labs to prioritize some but not others of COVID testing

How do they act?

If we can get a test that wakes everyone up-like they put on contact lenses-they will take the test. If they become positive, they will stay at home. Then they took the test the next day and stayed at home until the test turned negative, or for 7 days.

This alone, if everyone is doing it, or even if only most people are doing it, it will prevent the vast majority of transmission and will make these outbreaks disappear within a few weeks. We do not have to wait for the vaccine.

Do you think this will make a big difference?

If everyone can take one of these tests tomorrow, then we can reduce the spread in this country by 90-95% in the next few weeks. Of course, it is not possible at this time, but if the federal government treats this situation with the same urgency as dealing with vaccines, it may or may not work.

What do you think the government should do?

(The government should) invest $1 billion to really promote this technology to conduct a $1 paper strip test, which can be printed in millions of people, and in every U.S. next month People get 50 packs in their hands, not even every American-it may only be Texas, Arizona and Florida now, because these states are infecting other states.

Why do these tests no longer exist?

We allow red tape and this outdated view-in this country, we have not invested enough public health funds for so many years, and people are not aware of it, so that we simply do not realize that there may be a main goal The fact of testing is public health rather than clinical medicine. Everything is included as diagnostic information in insurance reimbursement and FDA regulations. It requires rethinking the appearance of the test someone might use and how it is defined.

So, is this a regulatory issue?

I am usually not against regulation, but it has become so extreme here that it has really hindered every step of the ability to test this virus method since February. The current situation is causing these companies to conduct bottleneck testing, because these companies are actually unable to legally use instant coffee, and these companies may now have passed cheap tests to produce more expensive espresso machines.

Until the regulatory landscape changes, there is no reason for these companies to try to bring their products (fast, cheap, tested at home) to the market. Therefore, many people just sit on it. Or they are trying to spend more time and more money to better optimize the test, which may take months. My concern is that the result that will be produced at the end of these months is a test approved by the FDA, but this test is too expensive and too complicated to scale and use for everyone.

How do you respond to people who criticize that cheap tests are not as accurate or reliable as current tests?

Many people are wasting time trying to figure out how to make instant coffee as good as espresso. They are different things.

Do you have any financial interests in any company that conducts these tests?

I do not have any financial relationships or any other connections with these companies. I’m really just based on science.

Do you really think this is the best hope for dealing with this epidemic?

We have no vaccine tomorrow. We have no choice but to shut down the economy and schools. This can work. This is a tool that can start production tomorrow, and within a few weeks can start to change the entire outbreak process in major cities in the United States, thereby making the entire United States safer.

Contact Karen Weintraub at kweintraub@usatoday.com

Funding from the Masimo Ethics, Innovation, and Healthcare Foundation guarantees the health and patient safety of USA Today. The Masimo Foundation does not provide editorial opinions.

This article was originally published in USA Today: How to stop the COVID-19 pandemic? Harvard doctors say that cheap tests are the answer.

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