Coronavirus Pandemic

Can Covid-19 testing allow us to gather safely for the holidays?

Reuters/New York
Filed on November 19, 2020 | Last updated on March 19, 2021 at 12.44 pm

If you think you’ve been exposed to Covid-19, first protect others by limiting your contact with anyone else as best as you can.

With families hoping to gather for the holidays, Reuters assembled more than 30 healthcare experts to discuss Covid-19 testing during an #AskReuters Twitter chat.

Below are edited highlights.

What kinds of Covid-19 tests are available now?

“Viral tests tell you if you have an active infection. Genetic (nucleic acid) tests are more accurate than antigen tests. These are used for making a diagnosis of current #COVCovidID-19 infection.”

— Raed Dweik, MD, MBA, chair of Cleveland Clinic’s Respiratory Institute

Can people safely rely on test results to socialise?

“You should not rely on test results alone to safely socialise in person. A test can only tell you if you are positive at a given moment in time, and can also fail to detect cases if you are infected but not yet shedding substantial virus.”

— Dr. Angela Rasmussen, virologist affiliated with Georgetown Center for Global Health Science and Security

“Now is the time for delayed gratification. My family pushed back Thanksgiving to the spring and look forward to a safer event at that time.”

— Dr. Joshua Schiffer, associate professor at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

If someone thinks they have been exposed to Covid-19, should they get tested?

“If you think you’ve been exposed to Covid-19, first protect others by limiting your contact with anyone else as best as you can. Get tested even if you don’t have symptoms. And quarantine until you get the results.”

— Heather Pierce, JD, MPH, senior director and regulatory counsel at Association of American Medical Colleges

“Yes! If you think you’ve been exposed, get tested. Whether or not you have symptoms or are at increased risk, you should get tested if your local testing capacity allows it.”

— Dr. Syra Madad, senior director, Special Pathogens at New York City Health & Hospitals

What are the current successes and failures of testing?

“Despite many bumps in the road, a massive success is the number of tests currently available. It’s remarkable that so many have achieved FDA authorisation. We continue, however, to struggle to meet testing demand, which requires more reagents and more people.”

— Infectious Diseases Society of America

“To me, the biggest failure is that we are still unable to do what South Korea and Taiwan were able to do in the spring. The failure of testing continues to plague us. Long lines, long turnaround time, lack of reagents.”

— Dr. Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security

How can testing be democratised so that everyone has access?

“We need to hardwire equity into our Covid-19 response in terms of access, prioritisation and coverage. Essential workers are not prioritised in Covid-19 testing, yet they have the highest exposure.”

— Roopa Dhatt, executive director at Women in Global Health

“Globally, the lack of widespread availability of testing is partly what is resulting in an underestimate of the true burden of this pandemic. A lot more people have had and have died of this disease than have been diagnosed.”

— Dr. Nahid Bhadelia, infectious-diseases physician and associate professor at the Boston University School of Medicine

Can mass testing be used for people to return to “normal”?

“No. Testing does not replace basic prevention measures such as social distancing and wearing masks. Testing negative only means you have no detectable virus at the time of the test.”

— Joe Eisenberg, chair and professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan School of Public Health

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