The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health announced a new initiative on Wednesday to help determine whether the frequent and widespread use of rapid coronavirus tests is slowing the spread of the virus.
The program will make rapid home antigen testing available to all residents of two communities, Pitt County, North Carolina, and Hamilton County, Tennessee, free of charge, enough for a total of 160,000 people to test. test three times a week for coronavirus. month.
“This effort is precisely what I and others have called for almost a year – widespread and accessible rapid tests to help curb transmission,” said Michael Mina, epidemiologist at Harvard University, who has been a strong advocate for rapid home testing programs.
He added, “Anyone can do 30 seconds of their day three times a week to take the test.”
Antigen tests are cheaper and faster than PCR tests, which are the gold standard for diagnosing Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, but they are less sensitive and more prone to false negatives. Mathematical models have suggested that if these tests are used frequently, they can further reduce the transmission of the virus.
Testing can help identify people who may not realize they are contagious, prompting them to self-isolate before they can pass the virus on to others. But real-world data has been limited, and with the number of virus cases still high across the country, testing remains essential, according to public health experts.
“We have all speculated that large-scale home testing could stop the chain of transmission of the virus and allow communities to discover many more cases,” said Bruce Tromberg, who heads the National Institute of Health. biomedical imaging and bioengineering and directs its rapid acceleration. of the diagnostic program, which provides the tests for the initiative. “All mathematical models predict it. But this is an example of the real world, of real life. “
Residents who decide to participate in the program can have the tests delivered to their homes or pick them up at local distribution sites. An online tool will guide participants through the testing process and help them interpret their results. Residents can also volunteer to take surveys that will assess whether frequent testing has changed their behavior, knowledge about Covid-19, or opinions about vaccination.
Researchers at the University of North Carolina and Duke University will compare test positivity, case and hospitalization rates in these two communities with those in other similar communities not participating in the program.
A. David Paltiel, professor of health policy and management at the Yale School of Public Health, called the launch of a real-world study into the effectiveness of rapid home screening “just great news.” But he cautioned that the results will need to be interpreted with caution, especially if residents who choose to participate in the initiative are not representative of the community as a whole.
“We know that self-selection tends to bring out worried people and a disproportionate number of people already aware or aware of Covid,” he said.
“It will be great to see how it works when it’s in the hands of people who really care,” he added. But, he said, the findings may not be broadly applicable to screening programs in which participation is mandatory, as may be the case with some workplace and school programs.