Researchers from all over the world have been racing to make a faster, easier, and cheaper COVID-19 test. Without checking everyone, there’s no way of knowing who has Coronavirus. There’s a gap in the data, but rapid testing can help fill it.
In America, Abbott Laboratories developed a quick test that was approved in record time by the Food and Drug Administration. President Donald Trump announced that America had reached one million tests and that the Abbott kit is part of his administration’s plan to ramp up even more aggressive testing, which will be an invaluable tool in combating the pandemic.
The Need for Good Data
Of the one million tested, 16% showed positive for the Wuhan Coronavirus. If this number is representative of America as a whole, nearly 50 million people are already infected. This figure would be extraordinarily good news for the country. It would mean that the disease is far less deadly than previously thought.
However, the correct number of infected people is probably somewhere between 200,000 and that 50 million; we don’t know the exact number. The trouble is that we have highly limited and uncertain data. The professionals are mostly guessing.
That is why mass and surveillance testing is of crucial importance. Knowing the real number of infected people will help the modelers to say with much higher accuracy and certainty how many respirators may be needed and how many are likely to die.
Part of the problem is that information coming out of China cannot be trusted, and there is some indication that Italy is inflating its death numbers. Scientific adviser to Italy’s Minister of Health, Professor Walter Ricciardi, says that “on re-evaluation by the National Institute of Health, only 12% of death certificates have shown a direct causality from coronavirus.”
Researchers at Stanford University warn that far more people are infected without symptoms than the confirmed cases and that the reported death rates are “orders of magnitude too high.” To prove their point, Drs. Eran Bendavid and Jay Bhattacharya said that 0.9% of the people evacuated from Wuhan were infected. That is 30 times higher than the official infection rate reported by the Chinese authorities at the time.
Similarly, in the village of Vò in Italy, all 3,300 inhabitants were tested on March 6, and 90 people, which is 2.7%, were infected. If this was representative of the whole region, Italy had 130 times more infected people than the confirmed cases at that stage.
An Atypical Disease
If aggressive testing confirms the findings of Drs. Bendavid and Bhattacharya, it explains the mysteriously rapid spread of the disease. It implies that most people who are infected never get ill or develop symptoms and just spread it to others. But while the virus is harmless to most, a small group of people among the sick and elderly become critically ill with a high chance of death or organ damage.
If it turns out that millions of Americans are already infected, the country is well on its way toward developing herd immunity, which will help protect those at risk by slowing the spread. It would also mean that the economy can reopen sooner than anticipated.
All these hypotheticals are still highly uncertain, and there is only one way to improve the data: extensive testing.
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