Could Rapid Coronavirus Testing Help Life Return To Normal?

Could Rapid Coronavirus Testing Help Life Return To Normal?

An announcement from the White House could expand rapid COVID-19 testing significantly as President Trump boasts about U.S. testing capacity. Harvard epidemiologist Dr. Michael Mina lays out the testing failures so far and how rapid tests could help get our lives back to normal in the pandemic.

Dr. Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology and assistant professor of immunology and infectious diseases at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. Associate medical director in clinical microbiology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School. Core member of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics. (@michaelmina_lab)

Ian Pepper, environmental microbiologist. Director of the Water and Energy Sustainable Technology Center at the University of Arizona. Professor in the Community, Environment, and Policy Department in the University of Arizona College of Public Health. Leading efforts to detect COVID-19 in wastewater on campus, to prevent outbreaks. Director, National Science Foundation Water Quality Center. (@UAZPublicHealth)

Interview Highlights

On how rapid coronavirus tests work

Dr. Michael Mina: “COVID tests can actually be put onto a piece of paper, very much like a pregnancy test. In fact, it’s almost exactly like a pregnancy test. But instead of looking for the hormones that tell if somebody is pregnant, it looks for the virus proteins that are part of SA’s code to virus. And it would be very simple: You’d either swab the front of your nose or you’d take some saliva from under your tongue, for example, and put it onto one of these paper strips, essentially. And if you see a line, it means you’re positive. And if you see no line, it means you are negative, at least for having a high viral load that could be transmissible to other people.

“It’s a technology called lateral flow, which is because, essentially, the viral particles literally flow across the piece of paper and get pulled by these little proteins on the paper to create the line, essentially. And the technology has been around for a very long time for lots of pathogens. We use it all the time in clinics around the world, for things like malaria, for example. They can be produced very, very cheaply. And so far, we haven’t put them to wide scale use for this virus during this pandemic. But they certainly can be available. And in fact, the company Abbott just the other day came out with a commercial version of it that was FDA approved at them. At this moment in time, it’s approved only for use by medical professionals and with a doctor’s order, for example, of symptomatic people. But it’s a good first step in the right direction where we will start to see these, I believe, become more and more readily available to the general public.”


Text & image courtesy:
A sign displays a new rapid coronavirus test on the new Abbott ID Now machine at a ProHEALTH center in Brooklyn on August 27, 2020 in New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

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