We need more and faster tests for coronavirus.

I’ve noticed a couple of studies suggesting that the real number of active cases of coronavirus is 50 times, 60 times, or even 85 times the current number of the official reported cases. There are two parts to this statement that need to be clarified. One is that we don’t test everyone, therefore, we don’t really know how many have coronavirus. Secondly, the lack of symptoms from coronavirus prevents the testing of those people.

I live in the Houston area. Only those people with symptoms over a certain age that have been pre-screened electronically can be tested. There are not enough test kits to test everyone. The availability of coronavirus testing has been a major problem from the start.

In early February 2020, the only testing for coronavirus was done by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). There were tests available for 50,000 people. Initial test samples had to be sent to Atlanta (delays!). The process for testing was a bit complicated and not every test was verifiable. The decision to continue testing for coronavirus only at CDC created time delays and other problems. This type of testing will never work with a pandemic.

A month later, confusion regarding testing and a lack of clarity about results allowed the virus to infect many Americans. It was impossible to even start containment. Coronavirus began to spread exponentially in the United States. Federal regulations created a problem that pre-empted the development of emergency test kits from companies, universities, hospitals, laboratories, etc.

The FDA would have to issue an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for anyone outside the FDA and CDC to begin working on an independent test for coronavirus. We are now six weeks into the exponential growth of the virus and testing development is being stifled. The whole purpose of the EUA was to ‘protect the public”. Yes, there are charlatans in the medical research field that will sell the public a bill of goods that is accurate and verifiable.

Another area of the delay was the requirement to send physical copies of the laboratory testing protocols for review rather than sending them by email. Now the U. S. Postal Service became involved. Days were wasted in the logistical process to review and approve new tests.

The FDA reporting requirements also hampered development and treatment. EUA regulations prohibited any lab from reporting results to doctors who had ordered the coronavirus tests for their patients. The approval process and further development of test kits seemed to get mired in the federal processes. The enemy of good is perfect. Sometimes, we want a test to be perfect, and it might only be 85-90% accurate. To achieve the extra ten or fifteen percent accuracy takes time and money.

Weeks into the coronavirus infestation of the United States had seen no appreciable diagnostic test kits for the public. Everything was still being handled by the CDC. A public health emergency existed, and bureaucracy was still part of the problem. The FDA dilemma was the use of ‘unapproved test kits’ with potential benefits to the public versus known or unknown risks of the test kits.

It was the end of February before the bureaucracy was able to open testing to facilities that had previously been qualified on similar high-complexity viral tests. This took CDC out of the loop and opened the door for public testing of coronavirus. The time to diagnose, test, and report, was long. The ability of a laboratory to test more than a thousand a day was limited. Too little, too late!

The United States was not prepared to respond to a pandemic. We are seeing a similar thing happening with the reporting of results. The lack of testing tells us how many out of the total tested were infected with the virus. It does not tell us how many have the virus. If a large portion of the population is asymptomatic (no symptoms present), then they are categorized as ‘not having the virus.’ Yet, they do. The numbers suddenly don’t mean anything.

The recent Stanford Study using blood samples of the coronavirus antibodies suggests that 50,000 to 80,000 of Santa Clara County’s 2,000,000 residents are infected. These numbers of ‘confirmed cases’ of coronavirus are levels of magnitude greater than what is being reported. We see the death rate from coronavirus approaching 4% in some segments. It seemed to be agreed that overall, the death rate was probably slightly greater than 1%. Yet, now, with thousands more infected, the real death rate is probably less than 0.2 percent – something approaching our seasonal flu death rate from various strains of influenza.

A similar study was done in Los Angeles by the University of Southern California and suggested that hundreds of thousands of residents are infected but not showing any symptoms. Yes, the academics are irate and challenging the results based on many factors/methods/beliefs/biases. Yet, how do you know how many people have the virus without checking a larger population? We don’t have enough test kits to do that yet.

We have no viable plan to prevent infected asymptomatic people from infecting others, especially those who are at higher risk of death from the virus. Social distancing, gloves, masks, and quarantines are slowing the spread of coronavirus. But, is the risk as great as we have been told nearly every day?

My first college degree was in chemistry with a math and physics minor. I took statistics as an elective in the Sociology Department because I thought it would be fun and informative. I worked in fields that I used statistics to develop reliability and quality tests.

I spent fifteen minutes with a Statistics professor while working on a doctorate and got nine hours of statistics waived for that program. I am aware of numbers and how statistics can be manipulated from the initial design of an experiment to the interpretation of the results.

Until we can test many more people than we are currently, the true death rate will only be approximated based on the numbers of people dying and the numbers of people known to be infected. All those other potential thousands (or tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands) won’t be considered and the numbers will remain skewed.

I am amazed to hear that many more people are infected and not showing any symptoms. That means this virus is not as lethal and impactful as we originally believed. Yes, high-risk people (elderly, obese, diabetic, cardiovascular problems, kidney, hypertension, and more) need to be protected because their bodies cannot effectively fight this virus.

Vaccines, when available, are not going to be viable for 100% of the people. The virus is mutating – at last count about 30 new strains – and a vaccine must be effective for each strain. It sounds like a horrible summer coming, but I believe that we are over the worst and the ability to test (quickly) several thousand people daily will make our lives significantly better.

Live Longer & Enjoy Life! – Red O’Laughlin – https://RedOLaughlin.com

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