COVID-19: Is a new test the answer we've been waiting for?

By Physician Sense
Published April 27, 2020

Key Takeaways

We try not to use the T word too much here at PhysicianSense. We’re not a political blog, but in looking back to look ahead this week, it’s impossible to ignore the overarching theme of the intersection of politics and medicine during the COVID-19 response. 

Like many careers, medicine requires physicians to wear two hats: personal and professional. Professional life for doctors requires a certain amount of objectivity. But in private life, we all have our opinions and biases. That doesn’t mean we can’t put on our professional hats and strive for objectivity, which is what we’re attempting to do here. 

With that caveat out of the way, we turn to analyzing the past week’s medical news and looking ahead to this week. What arguably should be a clinical response is becoming more politicized. But more on that in a bit. Here’s what happened this weekend.

What you missed from the weekend

Looking ahead

Here’s what we’re keeping an eye on this week:

Testing and reopening efforts

Ready or not, America is opening for business. OklahomaGeorgia, and Colorado are forging ahead. But as you might imagine, it’s not like flipping a switch. Think of all the donning, doffing, and scrubbing you need to do at work these days. Imagine, for a moment, that you run a barbershop in Georgia. How are you going to screen customers upon entry, adequately protect yourself on the job, and make sure that you don’t bring contagions home with you? It’s a complex problem -- one that, arguably, most Americans don’t have sufficient expertise to solve.

Lifting lockdowns safely means we need widely available testing. And widespread, reliable testing is still very much a moving target. As Dr. Deborah Birx said, what we really need is a test that does antigen detection, and does it quickly. That amounts to a technological breakthrough, she said.

Many also see a test that detects antibodies as the catalyst for restarting the economy. But, of the myriad serological immunity tests available to consumers, only 3 have been granted FDA emergency use authorization. The rest are unreliable and therefore pretty much worthless.

Furthermore, as Americans seek out these tests, they do so without confirmation that having antibodies connotes COVID-19 immunity. The jury to determine that isn’t out. It hasn’t even been convened. As a result, the WHO has raised red flagsover so-called immunity passport programs. As the American economy reopens, we’re essentially wandering into the dark without a flashlight here.

The Takeaway: We need to closely monitor the rollout of serological testing, the more widespread disbursement of PCR tests, and the rollout of so-called rapid PCR tests.

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