Health Care

How to End the Pandemic

A lab at Methodist Dallas Medical Center prepares viral transport media for samples before collecting samples for coronavirus in Dallas, Texas, June 24, 2020. (Cooper Neill/Reuters)
Allow us to test ourselves, and we could shut down the virus in four weeks.

The only way to end the pandemic is to isolate all carriers. That requires identifying them, which can be accomplished only by testing everyone at least once every two weeks.

Some would say that is impossible. The United States has a population of 330 million people. Testing everyone every two weeks would mean testing about 30 million people per day — roughly 40 times the current rate. There is no way the authorities will be able to do that anytime soon.

But that does not mean it can’t be done. We serve 330 million dinners in America every night. We can do that because we do not depend upon the government or FDA-certified clinics to cook them for us. If we did, we would all starve to death. We can do it because we are allowed to cook for ourselves.

The same principle holds true for dealing with the coronavirus. The authorities can’t possibly administer 30 million tests per day. But we — the people — can do it easily, provided we are allowed to do so.

There are now a variety of fast coronavirus tests that could be readily administered by businesses and schools and provide results within 20 minutes. These tests require only saliva samples, not deep upper nose swabs, and can be readily administered by practically anyone with very modest training. The FDA just approved “emergency use” of one of them by the NBA. The problem is that they won’t let the rest of us use them. Recently I was offered highly effective and economical rapid tests developed by an extremely well-qualified biotech firm. But FDA rules precluded transporting their tests across state lines. Upon appeal it now appears that the FDA might be willing to authorize such shipments on an “emergency basis,” but only for use in already overbooked clinics certified by yet another bureaucracy.

This won’t do. We need to be able to use the tests ourselves.

If we were allowed to use these tests, schools and businesses could test their students and workers at the start of each week and send all virus carriers home by 9 a.m. Monday. We could end the pandemic within four weeks, without needing to shut down any schools or companies.

The objection that rapid tests can produce up to 20 percent false negatives is irrelevant. Without mass testing we are producing 100 percent false negatives.

In my home state of Colorado, Governor Polis has attempted to slow the virus by telling businesses to keep half their workforce home. While seriously impairing business, that still leaves 50 percent of potential carriers coming in to work. Even a flawed rapid-test program could do much better than that.

If they wish to lead the way to defeating the pandemic, governors should authorize all businesses and schools in their states to conduct rapid coronavirus tests, demand that the FDA accept that ruling, and declare that any firm that implements regular testing will be freed from any workplace attendance limits. Every business I know would rush to take advantage of the offer.

Unfortunately, thus far, all 50 governors have been as deaf as the federal government to the imperative to institute universal rapid coronavirus testing without further delay. So a grassroots movement has emerged that is circulating a letter addressed to every governor demanding they take action.

If you would like to help, you can do so by sending one yourself.

We can defeat the virus. All we need is the right to defend ourselves.


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