At the heart of the coronavirus pandemic is the need to test for this novel disease. “Without knowing, without testing, it’s like moving blindfolded,” says WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
The challenge, of course, is manufacturing and distributing enough tests to every city in America, and then making those tests readily available to all citizens who need them. Here’s what you should know about coronavirus testing updates through the month of April.
How is the Coronavirus Test Performed?
The COVID-19 test is relatively simple and painless. It’s the same method used to test for influenza, so doctors are already very familiar with the testing process. One swab inside a person’s nose takes a sample of fluids from the upper part of the throat.
The swab is packaged and shipped to a laboratory or hospital to test for the presence of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Patients who test positive receive advice from their doctor on the next steps, including home isolation or hospitalization for advanced treatment.
Drive-Through Testing Locations
In order to make coronavirus testing more accessible, many states have launched drive-through testing locations. These low contact screening centers prevent overcrowding and potential virus transmission in healthcare centers.
However, it’s not as easy as pulling into a McDonald’s drive through. Most drive up testing locations require an appointment and doctor referral. Here’s what the process looks like:
- Patients drive up in designated lanes
- Medical personnel wearing protective gear come to car window to administer a swab test
- Swabs are sent for testing
- Results are provided via text in less than 24 hours
Some states have more comprehensive drive-through systems than others. Indiana, for example, is offering drive-through testing at Deaconess Midtown Hospital and Franciscan Health Michigan City. In Maryland, Fedex Field, home of the Redskins, has transformed into a coronavirus drive-through testing center. Alabama, meanwhile, has identified at least ten different drive-through testing locations throughout the state.
Streamlined Testing Equipment on the Horizon
With the pressure on to develop a faster and more effective COVID-19 test before the economy can reopen, the University of California, San Francisco Medical School and Mammoth Biosciences are teaming up to develop a next generation of tests.
On Thursday, April 16, the research team described their streamlined testing technology as CRISPR. It’s used to recognize genetic signatures of the coronavirus and release a fluorescent molecule to uncover whether the virus is present. It can run multiple samples simultaneously and return results in just 30-45 minutes.
Better yet, this testing system is self-contained and doesn’t require any sophisticated costly equipment to implement. “What we really want to develop is something like a handheld, pocket-sized device using disposable cartridges,” explained Dr. Charles Chiu, co-lead developer of the new test.
Looking to the Future
Most experts agree that testing is the most important component to easing social distancing restrictions and allowing the economy to reopen in stages. This includes antibody testing, which reveals whether someone has ever been infected with coronavirus and if their blood plasma can help treat existing COVID-19 patients.
With the combined efforts of researchers like Chiu, the CDC, the FDA, and other industry experts, America’s companies and labs can meet the demand for coronavirus tests and contribute to a slow but steady return to normal.