Harvard professor Dr. Michael Mina M.D. holds up a rapid-testing strip during the Heritage webinar

December 11, 2020
Rapid testing now! –– Issue #110

Is there a magic wand—one thing that the government could do to control the Covid pandemic and help us safely return to work and school?

Yesterday’s approval by an FDA-panel of Pfizer’s miraculously rapid development and production of its Covid-19 vaccine is vital. “This is a triumph,” wrote Dr. Eric Rubin, a Harvard immunologist in the New England Journal of Medicine, where he is editor-in-chief.

And even with a military-scale deployment strategy and all-hands-on-deck delivery of the vaccine by FedEx and UPS, it still is likely to take months before enough people can be vaccinated so economies can safely reopen.

But Congress could right now appropriate a few billion dollars to unleash the power of an inexpensive test that people can take at home to save lives to inform and enable us to be active partners in containing the virus until then.

Heritage hosted an all-star panel yesterday, “A Cure for Lockdowns,” featuring economist and Nobel Prize winner Paul Romer, Ph.D., Harvard professor Dr. Michael Mina M.D., and Galen and Heritage scholar Doug Badger.  The event was recorded so you can tune in anytime.

They passionately argue that rapid testing is the key to controlling the pandemic. The technology exists to equip everyone with knowledge of their COVID-positive status by using self-administered rapid tests. Massive distribution of rapid self-tests for use in homes, schools, offices, and other public places would replace harmful sweeping lockdowns with knowledge.

Many political leaders treat us as though we are all infected and use the clubs of lockdowns, curfews, business and school closures, and travel restrictions.  Instead, we should be deploying the sophisticated tools of instant, cheap tests so people can learn if they are Covid positive and take appropriate action. Those who test positive should undergo more accurate testing to confirm or rule out a COVID-19 diagnosis. If positive, they should be separated from the uninfected.

Doug Badger, writing in The Washington Times, argues: “Plan A has failed. The lockdown strategy, like mask mandates, rests on ignorance. Tragically, once we confirm an infection, we advise the infectious person to stay home and expose family members to the disease.

“We need a Plan B — one that relies on existing technology. That plan? Let people use rapid tests they can read at home to learn if they are infected. Such tests require only a saliva sample on a paper strip and yield rapid results. They cost only a few dollars to produce and don’t require laboratory analysis, enabling broad population screening at low cost.”

Heritage’s Marie Fishpaw and Paul Winfree write in a related article it “would take, according to Harvard epidemiologist Dr. Michael Mina, half the population testing themselves with a rapid test every four days.

“Paul Romer, a Nobel laureate in economics, argues we need to test 50 million people per day, an investment he estimates could cost of $45 billion over the course of three months. This is a snowflake in a storm compared to what has been spent to date in the response and the lives lost already.”

FDA and Congress are dragging their feet on rapid, home testing.

“Last winter, the regulatory system at the FDA, the CDC and CMS delayed the ability of the United States to rapidly develop and deploy COVID-19 testing. These regulatory failures contributed to the rapid spread of COVID and led to lockdowns, and a wave of infections. This time around, the agencies could (and should) enable us to get ahead of the virus by approving rapid self-testing kits for COVID-19,” according to Heritage.

“The FDA has taken steps in this direction, but barriers remain. For example, a cheap rapid test requires a laboratory certificate, even though it can be performed anywhere with no lab equipment.”

With the virus rapidly getting worse, action is critical.  Ask your senators why they aren’t calling the FDA to insist that it approve these tests. And if Congress were to appropriate a few billion dollars immediately, it could provide the resources to ramp up production of the inexpensive home test strips and save countless lives and economic calamity.
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