Speed over accuracy: Public health experts lean towards fast results for COVID-19 testing, abandoning accuracy

Thursday, September 10, 2020
By Paul Martin

by: Ramon Tomey
Thursday, September 10, 2020

Fast and frequent testing over accurate one-time tests with long waiting periods: This is what a number of public health experts have been saying in response to issues in coronavirus testing. Meanwhile, companies are racing to create COVID-19 diagnostic tests that are easier to use, more affordable, and display results quicker.

Most COVID-19 diagnostic tests in the U.S. involve the use of the rt-PCR method, which searches for the virus’ genetic material from DNA samples swabbed from the nose and throat of an individual and amplifies it. This method is incredibly sensitive, but is expensive and often involves shipping samples from a testing site to a laboratory for processing.

Demand for coronavirus testing overwhelmed the major U.S. commercial laboratories in July, delaying results for days or even weeks at a time.

In response, the Food and Drug Administration has authorized four antigen-based tests that search for viral proteins. Companies who make antigen-based COVID-19 tests have vowed to produce more of these in the coming months.

COVID-19 tests that do not require processing in a laboratory tend to be less sensitive than ones that do, but repeated testing can make up for any loss of sensitivity, according to public health experts. Furthermore, a shorter turn-around time for COVID-19 test results allows authorities to quickly identify and isolate persons who are highly infectious.

In addition, frequent testing catches any cases that might have made it past initial testing, while a highly accurate test with a long waiting period gives more time for the virus to spread. According to Sherlock Biosciences co-founder and Mass. General Brigham Center for COVID Innovation co-leader David Walt: “If you wait a week, it’s too late.”

A new kind of COVID-19 test is needed, but will it be accurate?

The Rest…HERE

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