In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, mastering the art and science of COVID-19 testing has been one the greatest trial-and-error experiments in recent history.
Testing looks different in every city and state across the country. With so many variables to consider, such as the supply chain of testing materials, access to testing, and funding for operations, it’s easy to see why testing is still far from cohesive around the U.S.
These snapshots offer a glimpse into the current state of testing in different corners of the country.
Colleges Must Test Frequently To Stay Open
To open, or not to open. That’s the ultimate question facing college campuses this fall. Some have already made the determination to reopen with intense safety protocols in place, while others have preemptively cancelled all on-campus activities. And many are still wavering, wondering how to handle this unprecedented situation.
For the colleges determined to head back to campus this fall, a study suggests that frequent testing of all students may be necessary to remain open without a major outbreak. Waiting to act until symptoms emerge, the study found, cannot plausibly contain an outbreak.
A modeling study published in the JAMA Network Open journal found the screening college students every two days, even with low-quality tests catching only 70% of all positive cases, creates a cost-effective regimen capable of keeping infections under control, especially compared to weekly screenings with higher-quality tests.
There’s also false-positives to consider. Testing too frequently risks generating false-positives that undermine student confidence in infection surveillance and force otherwise healthy students into quarantine. Researchers recommend a high specificity test to mitigate false-positive results while still allowing for frequent screening.
But can colleges accommodate the logistics of testing all students every two days?
Yale public health Professor A. David Paltiel, the study’s lead author, shared his thoughts on that. “Our view is that if you can’t see your way toward at least minimal meeting of these screening standards or maintaining control over prevention, then a school really needs to ask itself if it has any business reopening.”
Total Number of Tests Performed Nationally Is Decreasing
According to data from The COVID Tracking Project, the U.S has been cutting back on coronavirus testing since mid-July. As of August 12, the number of tests performed each day was about 17% lower than it was at the end of July.
Of most concern is the fact that testing is also declining in hard-hit states like Texas (a 45% decrease), Arizona (a 36% decrease), and Florida (a 27% decrease). Some testing reductions sought to resolve delays that undermined pandemic response and rapid treatment of positive cases. Without near-immediate results, the tests are worthless.
Some experts believe the overall testing reduction has helped testing sites like Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp improve their turnaround time. Quest Diagnostics is now reporting a testing results time of 2-3 days, and less for priority patients. LabCorp’s timeline is similar.
This highlights the serious contradiction the country currently faces: We can’t get our COVID-19 caseload under control without fast, widespread testing, but we are struggling to achieve fast, widespread testing with such a high caseload.