learn about COVID-19, its impact, and what you can do about it.
Testing for the novel coronavirus pandemic has been extremely difficult and problematic. An important and unique feature of COVID-19 is its ability to infect a host cell without the person presenting symptoms for a timespan of up to 14 days: the incubation period. The infectious period is the time during which an infected person can pass the virus to other people. Usually, this period begins 1 to 3 days before the incubation period. This means that someone may not know that the virus has infected them but be able to infect others for up to 13 days. There is also a high possibility for asymptomatic infection, meaning those who are infected may not know it, may not get tested, and therefore may not take proper precautions to prevent infecting others. For these reasons, testing plays a crucial role in making sure everyone is informed about, and preventing, the spread.
There are several different types of test kits; each comes with its own cost and accuracy. The most reliable test kits consist of a six-inch cotton swab and a type of culture, a substance lined in the container which acts like food to particles, to keep potential viral particles alive. Though there are few materials needed to make a kit, the public demand has been so great that manufacturers were not (and are still not) able to keep up. It is only recently that they have been able to produce enough testing kits that proper data is able to be measured.
Ensuring that the population is informed regarding who is and is not currently infected with the virus has many benefits that testing availability provides. One of these benefits is having more capability to do contact tracing. To effectively contact trace, if one person tests positive, everyone who that person has been in contact with during the recent past also needs to be tested, and whoever tests positive from that group continues the process. This means that the number of tests needed sourcing from a single positive result has the potential to grow exponentially, and to effectively follow through with the contact tracing method, many test kits must be available. Another benefit that may result from an abundance of test kits is that scientists and analysts would have a better understanding of where society is relating to its herd immunity. While there are some concerns that this particular novel virus is an exception to this, traditionally, once a person gets the virus and recovers once, they won’t have to worry about getting it again. Assuming this is true with the novel coronavirus, once a certain percent of the population has gone through the infection and recovery process, an effect called herd immunity takes place. Herd immunity occurs when there are enough people with immunity (via vaccine or natural antibodies) that if the virus has an outbreak, there is a small possibility that it will reach someone without immunity. An extensive record of test results would prove useful for data analysts who are trying to decide whether this effect has taken place or not, thus properly informing and advising politicians the best reopening strategies. Similarly, once a certain degree of normality is obtained, regular testing will be helpful to inhibit further outbreaks. If a person tests positive during a regular, not-symptom-triggered test, contact tracing could be used to stop further spread much earlier than if only non-regular testing were being performed.
While all of these benefits would be great, none of them are possible without sufficient testing caliber. Tests are being produced at a greater rate now than ever, therefore expanding the capability of these possibilities. It is just a matter of time before these new methods of combating the virus can be put into effect and the curve can be flattened, saving many lives.
Written by Jonathan Fascetti
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