This One Thing Could "Completely Change the Course" of COVID, Doctor Says

A Harvard expert says there's a solution right now that isn't entirely dependent on a vaccine.

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While the country waits on a pending coronavirus vaccine, COVID-19 continues to spread throughout the U.S., leaving many to wonder if there are any alternatives for gaining control of the virus. The answer, of course, is yes. For starters, if most of the country banned together and adhered to simple public health measures like social distancing and wearing face masks, experts agree that that alone would make a major impact. But cracking down on the behavior of individuals is not the only method for containment. In fact, according to one of the country's top epidemiologists, a solution that could make huge strides toward breaking the chain of coronavirus transmission already exists: daily paper-strip tests.

"In the same way we know that masks can serve to decrease transmission, I want to use tests to decrease transmission," Michael Mina, MD, PhD, assistant professor of epidemiology and a faculty member in the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said in a call with press on Aug. 7. "The way to do that, is to use cheap tests that are highly accurate to detect someone at the moment they are transmitting."

stack of coronavirus tests
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Mina went on to explain that these tests—which should be taken every day—provide for immediate results that allow people to act on the information, as opposed to PCR tests, which don't provide the same kind of timely, useful results. "Diagnostic tests are extremely limited. These aren't helping at the level of public health," he said. "Diagnosing doesn't do much good in terms of stopping the outbreak. It offers very little in terms of breaking transmission chains."

Mina said "we have a workable solution today," noting that the paper tests would cost only one dollar a day, perhaps even less, and can be printed by the millions in a week's time. Their impact would not only be rapid, but would "change the course of the pandemic." Essentially, if the country produced the strips in mass quantity and got a package of about 50 into the hands of the majority of Americans within the next several weeks—two things Mina said are completely achievable—we could essentially have control of the virus at a nationwide level, with or without a vaccine. And, oh yeah, these tests already exist.

So what's the problem?

In short, it's a matter of getting caught up in all the red tape surrounding the restrictions of being FDA-approved and the federal government's unwillingness to change the target of its approach to testing. Because the paper tests are currently categorized as "diagnostic," Mina said that this makes them highly unlikely to receive approval from the FDA for at-home use. This is based on antiquated thinking, he said, which is why he is pushing for the tests to be considered as a "public health tool" the same way screening tools like masks and thermometers are.

"We could buy ourselves potentially years of time before we'd need a vaccine," Mina said, claiming that for a tenth of the federal stimulus, the government could have enough of these tests in people's hands for daily use that would last months, perhaps even as long as a year. "It would stop transmission," he said.

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Whether or not the necessary federal change in opinion will occur and these tests will soon become available for Americans is still completely speculative, but Mina remains adamant in regards to their game-changing potential and will continue to push to make it happen in any way he can. "We could potentially reduce transmission by 90 or 95 percent in this country within the next few weeks if everyone could have these tests tomorrow," he said. And for more on the problems with PCR testing, Here's Why Bill Gates Just Slammed COVID-19 Tests as a "Complete Waste."

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