The officials of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have started a new rapid at-home testing program to identify whether the frequent and extensive rapid COVID19 tests have reduced the spread of the virus. The officials have announced that they are going to make rapid at-home antigen tests accessible at no cost for residents of two communities Pitt County, North Carolina, and Hamilton County in Tennessee. The officials have said that under this plan, around 160000 people will be able to test themselves for COVID19 three times a week for a month. An epidemiologist at Harvard University, Michael Mina has said that such efforts are needed to keep a track of viral spread.
He has said that widespread and accessible rapid COVID19 tests are needed to curb the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. As per the experts, people can easily take 30 seconds out of their schedule to perform the test three times a week. As per the report, antigen tests are low-cost and can deliver results faster than the RT-PCR tests. RT-PCR tests are the gold standard tests for diagnosing the COVID19 disease that is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. However, the antigen test can be prone to false-negative reports, as these tests are less sensitive.
Health experts have said that if these tests are used regularly, it might help reduce the spread of the virus. They have confirmed that these tests can help track people who are unaware that they are infected with the virus. These tests will help guide these people to isolate themselves before they start infecting others. Public health experts have said that real-world data is quite limited and with surging cases of COVID19 in the country, testing has become very crucial. Dr. Bruce Tromberg is the director of the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, who heads a rapid acceleration diagnostic program that will provide the testing kits for the initiative.
Dr. Tromberg has said that he and his team believe that rapid antigen tests at home at a larger scale might be able to prevent the chain of the spread of the virus. It will as well identify many more other new cases in the communities. The officials have said that residents of these communities who want to take part in the testing initiative will be able to get their testing kits delivered at their homes or can collect from the nearest distribution sites. There will be an online support tool that will guide people through the testing procedure and help them read the results.
Health officials have informed that residents, who are willing, can participate in a survey that will identify whether the new initiative has brought some changes in their behavior, knowledge about COVID19, and views on getting the vaccine. Experts from the University of North Carolina and Duke University will be comparing the positivity rate, case, and the rate of hospitalization of these two communities to the outcomes of this initiative in other two similar communities.
Dr. David Paltiel, who is a professor of health policy and management at Yale School of Public Health, has said that it is a launch of a real-world study of the efficiency of rapid at-home testing. He has warned that people should be careful while reading the results, mostly when people who are participating in the testing drive are not representatives of the community at large. Dr. Paltiel has said that it will be great to see how this initiative turns out to be, though the outcomes might not be widely applicable to screening programs where participation is obligatory.