The United States is evaluating a radical change in its strategy for detecting coronavirus cases. Until now, the country follows the conventional criteria: if there is a person suspected of having the virus for manifesting symptoms or for having been in contact with someone infected, the swab is performed, the sample is analyzed and, depending on the result, it is defined if you must quarantine or can continue with your normal life.
But before the sustained growth of contagion, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, revealed that the authorities are studying the possibility of doing group tests. Instead of testing individuals individually, the tests of several individuals would be analyzed at the same time, which would reduce costs and speed up the detection period of positive cases.
“What you need is to find the penetration of infected people into your society,” Fauci said in an interview published this Friday in The Washington Post. “The only way to find out is to cast a wide net.“
For group tests, the sampling mechanism is not modified. All suspected cases should be swabbed. But instead of analyzing each sample separately, they are combined and a single analysis is made. If the result is negative, the analyzed group can be discarded on the spot, which can be 10 or 20 people. On the other hand, if the group test detects the presence of the new coronavirus, that segment is individually tested.
“Something is not working,” Fauci said of the current approach. “I mean, you can make all the diagrams you want, but something is not working.”
The expectation of the country’s main infectologist is that, with this new approach, a greater number of people could be evaluated in less time, which would allow the virus to be found earlier, isolated and prevented from spreading, which is reaching record levels. Although daily deaths have remained below a thousand for two weeks, far from the peak of 2,700 detected in April, on Thursday the maximum daily contagion was recorded, 40,184, when in early June the average did not exceed 20,000 per day.
Fauci said in the interview that the laboratories have the capacity to adopt a pool testing scheme. In any case, in order to move forward with the initiative, it will be necessary to improve coordination between the laboratories, the manufacturers of the test kits and the health departments of the 50 states of the country. The United States, which conducts around 15 million tests a month, is not the only country studying the change in focus. Researchers in Israel and Germany, who in recent days faced outbreaks after containing the epidemic, are also evaluating the possibility.
The tests have been the subject of controversy for several weeks in the United States due to President Donald Trump’s questions about an alleged excess, which would be behind the increase in infections. Fauci said Tuesday in a congressional hearing that Trump never asked him to stop testing for the coronavirus. “None of us have been told to slow down the testing,” he told a House of Representatives panel about efforts to mitigate the pandemic.
“In fact, we will do more testing,” added Fauci. At his side, three other health authorities who advise the White House also answered “no” without hesitation when a legislator asked them if the president had asked them to stop testing.
Trump, who is seeking re-election in November, raised a wave of criticism on Saturday when, at a campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma – in which most of the attendees neither wore masks nor respected the recommended social distance to avoid infections – He said the tests to detect Covid-19 are a “double-edged sword,” because the more they do, the more cases are found.
“When you do the tests … you will find more people, you will find more cases,” Trump argued. “So I said to my people, ‘Slow down the testing.'”
Later, a White House official told the AFP agency that Trump was joking, which generated even more annoyance among critics of the president. But on Tuesday, the president insisted that his comments were not a joke.
“I’m not kidding,” Trump told reporters before highlighting the United States’ Covid-19 detection system as “the best” in the world, which he said has evaluated 25 million people. “With more evidence, we find more cases,” Trump said, even suggesting that high numbers are a political responsibility during an election year. “Having more cases sounds bad,” he said. “But really what it is is that we are finding cases.”
With information from AFP