The novel corona virus—it is all anyone can talk about. Coverage dominates the news, Facebook feeds, and now-ubiquitous common Zoom calls. The central theme? How do we contain this—or is it even possible?
In truth, 100 percent containment of a virus is likely unobtainable, especially one as robust and contagious as COVID-19. But that doesn’t mean that partial containment is a pipe dream. However, it rests on rigorous and widely available testing.
The Test Shortage
There is plenty of blame to pass around when it comes to COVID-19 containment failure—especially given such a pandemic has long been predicted. Just take a look at Bill Gates’ 2015 TED Talk. But few factors have had the impact of the test shortage in the United States.
The White House has acknowledge this testing shortage since early March, yet it doesn’t seem to be getting better. Symptomatic individuals still struggle to access testing unless they have been in direct contact with someone confirmed to have the novel corona virus or have recently traveled to a country with an outbreak—despite the fact that the U.S. now qualifies as such a country. And those with minor symptoms often cannot get tested no matter their contact history.
This is a serious issue. Not only because anyone exhibiting symptoms should be able to access testing, but because it is estimated that anywhere between 25 and 50 percent of individuals carrying the novel corona virus are asymptomatic.
The Lesson of Typhoid Mary
You cannot talk about pandemics without discussing the infamous Typhoid Mary. Born Mary Mallon, she was a healthy carrier of Salmonella typhi—typhoid fever. Or put another way, she had typhoid, but was asymptomatic.
Despite her lack of symptoms, it was confirmed that she infected at least 51 people directly, though that number is undoubtedly higher given her work in the food industry. Through those 51 people, thousands of others in New York City also contracted typhoid fever. Of course, these numbers only reflect those who were tested, which was limited to those who were symptomatic.
So, what does this mean for COVID-19? Essentially, if as much as 50 percent of the infected population has no idea they carry the virus, they will continue to behave as if they don’t have it. As a result, the virus will spread more than it already has. The key to even partial containment is widespread, easily accessible testing.
The At-Home Testing Solution
Ideally, every American would have access to at-home testing that they can take on a regular basis whether or not they are experiencing symptoms. This would ensure that asymptomatic carriers are caught early on and can isolate until they test negative. While this sounds like a distant goal, the truth is that these tests are already available.
Rapid antibody IGM/IGG COVID-19 testing kits are already being manufactured in China and can be purchased through online retailers, like Alibaba. But much like the Chinese stockpiles of PPE that are likewise accessible, few people are aware that these tests exist.
Despite this, if the U.S. is going to be prepared to fight this pandemic over the long term, all Americans need access to these tests. Just like stocking up on shelf-stable foods and other essentials, it is time that Americans arm themselves with testing.