Coronavirus

Trump Administration Should Immediately Launch an Operation Warp Speed for COVID-19 Testing

It would be the best thing to do with the $22.4 billion Congress allocated for COVID-19 testing

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The massive COVID-19 relief bill just passed by Congress provides $22.4 billion for "the necessary expenses for testing, contact tracing, surveillance, containment and mitigation to monitor and suppress COVID-19." The provision would fund tests for both active infection and prior exposure and bankroll the ramped up manufacture, procurement, and distribution of tests and testing equipment and supplies. The funds are supposed to be made available no later than 21 days after the bill becomes law. In addition, the appropriated monies are supposed to support the development of COVID-19 testing plans, however, the legislation does not outline how an effective COVID-19 testing regime should be set up and rolled out. So, what to do?

Since the early spectacular federal government failures with respect to developing and deploying COVID-19 tests at the beginning of the pandemic, the country has always been a step behind the proliferating coronavirus. It didn't have to be that way. At the end of April, the federal government launched its Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADx) initiative at the National Institutes of Health, funded with $1.5 billion. Contrast this budget with Operation Warp Speed's $18 billion budget to develop and deploy vaccines against COVID-19.

The RADx initiative, it must be acknowledged, has been successful in stimulating research and development on a remarkably wide variety of COVID-19 tests, including molecular, antigen, and serological tests. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) brags that it has issued Emergency Use Authorizations (EUA) for 305 COVID-19 tests so far. However, 10 months after the first COVID-19 cases were detected in the U.S., none of the tests funded by RADx or approved by the FDA have been deployed on nearly the scale needed to blunt the course of the pandemic.

Still, the number of COVID-19 tests in the past week was just over 13 million, up from a few tens of thousands per week back in March. So if a couple of million tests per day is not enough to "monitor and suppress COVID-19," how many would be?

Harvard epidemiologist Michael Mina and his colleagues have been advocating for months now a plan to roll out community COVID-19 testing using rapid, cheap at-home antigen tests. COVID-19 antigen tests would have the convenience that at-home paper pregnancy and HIV tests provide. In a recent open letter to Congress signed by 50 leading infectious disease experts, Mina urged the federal government to spend "$500 million—$1 billion to jump-start upfront manufacturing capacity and $5 billion—$10 billion to implement nationwide rapid antigen testing for one year."

At a press conference in November, Mina estimated that it would take between 10 and 20 million tests per day to achieve vaccine-like herd immunity effects through halting the transmission of the virus through the population. As he noted in Time magazine, "Unlike vaccines, which stop onward transmission through immunity, testing can do this by giving people the tools to know, in real-time, that they are contagious and thus stop themselves from unknowingly spreading to others."

Such a strategy works. For example, as daily diagnosed COVID-19 cases were rising in the Eastern European country of Slovakia, its government initiated a nationwide campaign in which 3.6 million of its 5.5 million citizens were tested using a South Korean point-of-care antigen test over the first weekend in November for COVID-19 infections. Those who tested positive isolated themselves so as to not transmit the virus to others. Subsequently, daily COVID-19 infections fell by 60 percent in that country. Thereafter, the government moved quickly to ease COVID-19 curbs and testing fell off in November. Diagnosed cases subsequently began rising in December. Now the country is once again increasing its daily number of tests.

Washington Post columnist Megan McCardle explained in a thought experiment how testing can spare millions of Americans from the disease. Start with 100,000 pre-symptomatic and asymptomatic infected people who will, on average, infect three other people. If that 100,000 had taken advantage of a COVID-19 test that detects only 90 percent of infections, that would still catch 90,000 cases. Being responsible individuals who do not want to risk infecting other non-consenting people, the 90,000 with detected infections would then voluntarily isolate themselves. So instead of 300,000 new infections, the 10,000 undetected folks transmit the virus to only 30,000 other people. In the next round of testing, the 3,000 undetected cases transmit to just 9,000 other people. And so forth until the epidemic is essentially crushed.

As it happens, the FDA finally got around on December 15 to approving an at-home over-the-counter antigen test from the Australian company Ellume that provides results in 15 to 20 minutes. The company expects to provide 3 million at-home tests in January and deliver 20 million tests to the U.S. within the first half of 2021. A day later, the agency issued an EUA for the Abbott Laboratories at-home BinaxNOW antigen test. However, the FDA limits the test only to symptomatic people, requires a prescription for it, and taking it must be supervised by online telehealth experts. As a result, BinaxNOW is not a fast, cheap at-home test that could be widely deployed for community-scale testing. The open letter basically begs the FDA to stop over-regulating rapid antigen tests aimed at community testing by treating them like they are medical tests for diagnosing individual patients.

The open letter from Mina and his colleagues concludes:

Over the next six months, it is our profound hope that the vaccination of the majority of Americans may bring substantial relief from COVID-19. Until then, widespread and frequent rapid antigen testing is one of the best available public health tools at our disposal today.

Antigen tests can detect contagious people early in the disease, before symptoms develop. Used appropriately, these tests could curb outbreaks of the virus by reducing transmission. They provide a critical layer of protection to supplement masks, social distancing, and other precautions. They can help bridge the gap until broad vaccination is achieved.

The hopeful news is that despite federal government's manifold failures in this arena the Rockefeller Foundation estimates in a recent report that by the end of January, the country will likely be able to conduct more than 70 million tests each week, rising to 200 million by April. In other words, we may finally be getting close to Mina's threshold for throttling back the pandemic. Is it too much to hope that, in its remaining time, the Trump administration will seek to build on its amazing Operation Warp Speed vaccine successes by directing $10 billion or so of the COVID-19 relief funds to making tens of millions of cheap rapid antigen tests available daily to Americans?

NEXT: Employed, Middle Class Americans Don't Need More 'Free' Stimulus Money

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  1. How about this instead —

    If you’re scared, stay home. Just stop pointing the guns at the people who aren’t?

    1. No. Everyone must panic. Didnt you ever read the story of chicken little? At some point it all goes to shit. So panic every time.

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  2. We don’t need testing.

    1. Bailey and the commies at unreason are scared little mask pussies.

      They want everyone to be forced tested and force vaccinated. Then they must wear masks and help nuke out economy.

      Meanwhile in Georgia, no masks and business is BOOMING.

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    2. No libertarian should want Covid testing. Government uses the results of the tests to shut down businesses and put innocent people out of jobs.

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      2. “No libertarian should want Covid testing. Government uses the results of the tests to shut down businesses and put innocent people out of jobs.”

        Yep. That is how the world works. If you keep yourself ignorant of the truth, it can’t hurt you.

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  4. How about warp speed ending all lockdowns and then warp 9 to fucking beat the shit out of the goddamn chicoms for releasing a bio weapon.

    Or is that going to disrupt our electronic waste production and subsequent disposal. Somehow china became both our suppliers of Silicon Valley garbage and our dumping ground of same.

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  5. Trump is the one that botched, stalled, and ridiculed testing.

    Trump hugging the flag should cause every American to feel like a dog is humping their leg.

    1. I think Trump has been humping your leg for 4 years and you STILL haven’t shaken him off.

    2. Trump has been humping your leg for the last 4 years and you STILL can’t shake him off.

    3. thanks to Trump we no longer have to send all test to DC and wait six months of backlog for test results from the CDC

      1. Thanks to Trump and Trumpistas and Trump’s FDA, we STILL have to get permission to blow upon a cheap plastic flute!

        To find precise details on what NOT to do, to avoid the flute police, please see http://www.churchofsqrls.com/DONT_DO_THIS/ … This has been a pubic service, courtesy of the Church of SQRLS!

        1. Aren’t you the guy who eats poop?

          1. Some folks are intelligent, well-informed, and benevolent enough to competently discus ethics, morality, and politics. Others? They literally know how to talk shit, and little if anything else!

            1. Whereas you know how to eat it.

          2. Devours is the more correct word. He is also very racist.

        2. Thank God Biden will be in charge; he’s sure to speed up the bureaucracy.

        3. So you’re in favor of eliminating the FDA. Awesome.

        4. Thanks to Trump and Trumpistas and Trump’s FDA, we STILL have to get permission to blow upon a cheap plastic flute!

          So you admit the rules pre-date Trump and were created by the FDA. FDA incompetence is the slowing down the solution!

  6. It has to get through Gavin Newsom first.

    1. Warp speed arrest and prosecute Newsom.

  7. Seems like a waste of resources to spend it on test results that aren’t good the next day. Just get more people vaccinated.

  8. Such a strategy works. For example, as daily diagnosed COVID-19 cases were rising in the Eastern European country of Slovakia, its government initiated a nationwide campaign in which 3.6 million of its 5.5 million citizens were tested over the first weekend in November for COVID-19 infections.

    Are you sure ‘such a strategy works’
    Cause if it ‘worked’ then the number of daily cases should have remained low for quite some time despite lifting restrictions as the virus would have massively died out from those who isolated based on their Nov 1 test, and thus there would have been considerably few people who could spread it.

    As it stands now, daily new cases in Slovakia are higher today than they were for the previous peak on Nov 1st

    On Nov 15, daily ‘cases’ peaked in anti-science Iowa
    Two weeks later with no extreme measures taken, daily ‘cases’ had declined by ~50% and a month later continue to fall.

    Similar results throughout the rest of the midwest in places that ignore science (SD), places that sorta do science (ND), and places where the governor is shouting IFLS (IL, MN)

    1. On Nov 15, daily ‘cases’ peaked in anti-science Iowa
      Two weeks later with no extreme measures taken, daily ‘cases’ had declined by ~50% and a month later continue to fall.

      Nov 15 was the day that mask wearing in Iowa was made mandatory for all indoor events with over 20 people and all outdoor events with over 100. I don’t see that as ‘extreme’ – but it is pretty fucking clearly not your implication that Iowa is anti-science and things are petering out on their own

      1. California can’t even have events with 20 people, and has had a mask mandate since March. Cases are higher than ever.

        The point is, science includes analyzing data and looking for trends and correlations. There seems to be little evidence that the degree of government intervention on peoples’ lives is strongly correlated to how the COVID-19 case count trends in those locales vary over time.

      2. The presumption you are making is that Reynolds proclamation actually changed behaviors and that is what turned the tide.

        In truth very little changed from what people were already doing.
        The decline was in fact a natural petering out on its own.

        1. And the midwest chart shows this most convincingly. Different states with VASTLY different approaches, all with roughly the same curves. In none of them were hospitals overwhelmed. SD had 33%+ bed capacity all through their peak.

        2. I don’t think anyone in Iowa paid attention to the mandate. Maybe in my original hometown of flakey Iowa City but not out in the common sense area of Iowa. I live in Iowa on the Mississippi river. 90% wear masks in the stores. 10% do not. Nobody cares if you are not wearing one. If its an issue you just go the other way. My 84 year old father wears one when he is shopping. He does not wear one when he goes out playing cards on Wednesday with his friends, some who ended up with Covid. The rates of infection and death are dropping in Iowa. Someone smarter than me can explain the up and down double bump arrangement we are seeing in the infection rates over time. Population density, migration routes, etc. all seem to be factors in the spread. It seems California is going to be the next big jump. Sweden, North and South Dakota is still a good model for a sane reaction to this “pandemic” despite what the media tells us. Too many are still in a panic over the second bump. Hopefully there is no third bump.

      3. ‘and all outdoor events with over 100.’

        unless people are jammed into a elbow to asshole in a contained backyard somewhere, give me one good reason why anyone should wear a mask outdoors…I take it you think 100 people ‘jammed’ into Kinnick Stadium represent a threat to each other…

    2. That’s because that plastic jobbie is the wrong test. Costs too much.

      Micheal Mina has an excellent solution, it requires no checking in with authorities and is done cheaply in the comfort of your home for pennies… It’s a crime that he is largely ignored.

      Then again, with a stroke of some keys, the WHO just erased 100 years of virology and made herd immunity about vaccines.

  9. No it shouldn’t. The function of government is to defend liberty not keep us from getting sick.

  10. The low end estimate for the false positives on these tests is 1-5%. Others have estimated as high as 10%. Even higher in some of the articles decrying the number of cycles about the PCR tests.

    Why does this matter? A million people get tested and even if nobody has covid, the results will say 10k to 100k people are infected. Sounds bad. Then you realize the US is doing 1.7 million tests a day..

    https://ycharts.com/indicators/us_coronavirus_tests_administered_per_day

    Endless tests are not the panacea you hope for Ronnie.

    1. Testing and tracing would have helped a lot, last February when this was just getting started. Now it’s way too late. And the test results are only good until you go out in the world and meet someone new who wasn’t tested in the last day or two.

      1. Considering they have been finding signs that it was here in Autumn 2019, testing and tracing in February was also likely too late.

      2. “Testing and tracing would have helped a lot, last February when this was just getting started.”

        Helped what? It literally does nothing.

  11. Exactly wrong. Government uses the results of Covid tests to shut down businesses and put innocent Americans out of work.

    When did Reason become a communist web site?

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  13. I think more effort into producing vaccines would been the wiser choice. Apparently my state is getting 60,000 fewer doses of the vaccine because that amount produced was much lower than the amount estimated to be produced.

    Testing is basically a sideshow at best.

    1. It is now. This’ll all be over in 3-4 months when the case numbers crash.

    2. Yeah diagnostics are worthless. I have no idea why medicine has wasted its time on diagnosis for thousands of years.

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  16. What Trump administration?

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