Testing half the population weekly with inexpensive, rapid-turnaround COVID-19 tests would drive the virus toward elimination within weeks– even if those tests are significantly less sensitive than gold-standard clinical tests, according to a new study published today by University of Colorado Boulder and Harvard University researchers.
Such a strategy could lead to “personalized stay-at-home orders” without shutting down restaurants, bars, retail stores and schools, the authors said.
Our big picture finding is that, when it comes to public health, it’s better to have a less sensitive test with results today than a more sensitive one with results tomorrow. Rather than telling everyone to stay home so you can be sure that one person who is sick doesn’t spread it, we could give only the contagious people stay-at-home orders so everyone else can go about their lives.”
Daniel Larremore, lead author, assistant professor of computer science at CU Boulder
For the study, published in the journal Science Advances, Larremore teamed up with collaborators at CU’s BioFrontiers Institute and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health to explore whether test sensitivity, frequency, or turnaround time is most important to curb the spread of COVID-19.
The researchers scoured available literature on how viral load climbs and falls inside the body during infection, when people tend to experience symptoms, and when they become contagious.
They then used mathematical modeling to forecast the impact of screening with different kinds of tests on three hypothetical scenarios: in 10,000 individuals; in a university-type setting of 20,000 people; and in a city of 8.4 million.…