Virus Testing Is Dropping as Deaths Mount

Harvard researchers suggest test that could deliver results in minutes
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Aug 5, 2020 5:20 PM CDT
Virus Testing Is Dropping as Deaths Mount
A pedestrian walks past a coronavirus testing site in the Panorama City section of Los Angeles on Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2020.   (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)

US testing for the coronavirus is dropping even as infections remain high and the death toll rises by more than 1,000 a day, a worrisome trend that officials attribute largely to Americans getting discouraged over having to wait hours to get a test and days or weeks to find out the results. An AP analysis found that the number of tests per day slid 3.6% over the past two weeks to 750,000, with the count falling in 22 states. That includes places like Alabama, Mississippi, Missouri, and Iowa where the percentage of positive tests is high and continuing to climb, an indicator that the virus is still spreading uncontrolled. Widespread testing is considered essential to containing the outbreak as the US approaches a mammoth 5 million confirmed infections and more than 156,000 deaths out of over 700,000 worldwide.

Amid the crisis, some health officials are calling for the introduction of a different type of test that would yield results in a matter of minutes and would be cheap and simple enough for millions of Americans to test themselves—but would also be less accurate. "There's a sense of desperation that we need to do something else," says Dr. Ashish Jha, director of Harvard's Global Health Institute. A number of companies are studying COVID-19 antigen tests in which you spit on a specially coated strip of paper, and if you are infected, it changes color. A proposal from Harvard researchers calls for the federal government to distribute $1 saliva-based antigen tests to all Americans so that they can test themselves regularly, perhaps even daily.

(Read more coronavirus stories.)

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