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Five things to know about frequent mass testing for COVID-19

University of Illinois chemistry professor Marty Burke, along with his research group, have designed an aggressive testing program to allow the university to reopen this fall. Some experts say it should be a model for the rest of the country.

Meanwhile, researchers from more than two dozen companies are working on coronavirus testing at home that could allow this type of frequent mass testing to happen nationwide.

Here’s what we learned about frequent mass testing:

1. On any given day, the University of Illinois conducts approximately 2% of coronavirus tests in the United States.

As part of its mass testing program, the University of Illinois runs up to 20,000 tests per day ̵

1; it has conducted more than 250,000 tests in total, and each student is tested twice every week. In the United States, about 2% of all coronavirus testing done every day is done through the university.

Burke said the intensive testing program came about after looking at the model of what could happen if the school didn’t take steps to test students. “What they predicted if we sent all of our students back and didn’t do anything is that pretty much everyone would get COVID,” Burke said. “I mean, it was a pretty humbling prediction of how things were going to turn out. So we knew we’d have to be, you know, very aggressive.”

2. The school test is based on saliva, not a nasal swab

Burke told us his research team was concerned that the use of nasal swabs would be “too slow, too expensive, and too cumbersome” to run the kind of mass testing program that university epidemiologists have deemed necessary. To get around this, Burke’s team designed their own saliva test.

“There was a great paper that came out of the Yale team in April that was even more encouraging, showing that SARS-COV-2 can be detected in saliva even more sensitively than nasal swab,” Burke said. . “And so we decided to go all-in in developing a saliva-based test that could be fast and scalable, and thus enable us to achieve our goal.”

3. Scientists are working on scaling the tests so that the tests can be done at home

There are currently no FDA-approved home coronavirus tests for COVID-19, but more than two dozen companies are working to develop them. Orasure Technologies is one of them. Company CEO Stephen Tang told us that with a home test “an individual can get the results in the comfort of their own home in about 20 to 40 minutes, it will be done with a nasal swab. And it reads a lot. similar to a pregnancy test “.

4. If used nationwide, home testing could be a “game changer”

Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology at Harvard’s Chan School of Public Health, said he is optimistic that home coronavirus testing could be a step towards stopping the spread of coronavirus in the community. “I think if we could get rapid home testing in enough homes, it could actually stop the spread of the virus in the community,” he said.

“Similar to how we think vaccines result in what we call ‘herd immunity’ … These tests can actually do the same thing. So if we can get them out in enough families and teach people how to use them and they are very simple to use, so I think they can be a real game changer. “

5. There are some concerns about home testing

While options at home could increase accessibility to coronavirus testing, some scientists are skeptical that one will ever be approved by the FDA. They are concerned about the accuracy of the tests, whether people will be able to use them correctly and how people who can test positive may not report their cases to health officials, making contact tracing more difficult.

Where experts agree, however, is that the US needs to be much more tested than its current rate. Now, the country is running around 25 million tests per month: a new study suggests that the United States is expected to conduct up to 200 million per month.

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