By Doug Badger
Chicago Tribune, Feb. 17, 2021
Testing is vital to managing the pandemic yet the Food and Drug Administration is blocking Americans’ access to inexpensive rapid tests that could allow schools, offices, and the economy to quickly reopen.
Why is testing so important?
“Rapid tests can help solve the problem that masking and social distancing have not: an estimated one-third of COVID-19 cases are asymptomatic, yet those cases may account for more than one-half of transmissions,” Doug Badger argues in a Chicago Tribune op-ed, “At-home COVID-19 test kits should be approved for Americans.”
“Millions of people risk spreading the disease because they don’t know they have it,” he writes.
“California-based Innova Medical Group produces millions of COVID-19 tests every day. These tests could transform the pandemic response and move us beyond the public health policy stalemate. Yet not one of them is available to Americans. Innova is exporting them to other countries because the FDA bans their distribution in the U.S.”
These are tests that people can perform at home and that yield results in minutes, according to Badger, visiting fellow at The Heritage Foundation and Senior Fellow at Galen.
“The CDC has never developed effective policies for identifying people who are infectious. Instead, they advise wearing a mask — or two — but have never devised an effective plan for what to do once people acquire the infection despite wearing masks,” he writes.
Rapid testing would help address this problem by enabling tens of millions of people to find out if they are carrying the pathogen and take appropriate steps to protect others.
Badger argues that the U.S. should cut red tape in order to get ahead of the virus by approving rapid self-testing kits for COVID-19. The Biden administration has voiced support but action awaits.
“The FDA justifies its inaction by noting that rapid, home-based tests,” Badger writes, “are less sensitive than laboratory-based PCR tests.”
But while “rapid tests are more likely…to return false negatives, that is more than offset by their volume (tens of millions of tests per day), frequency (people could test themselves multiple times) and immediacy (they return results in minutes, rather than days).”
Badger says that “Instead of doubling down — literally — on masks, the government should pursue better ways of fighting the pandemic. Liberating and equipping Americans to use rapid at-home tests is the best place to start... They are a complement to vaccines and a fail-safe if variants arise that the vaccines don’t prevent.”
He takes a deep dive into the testing issue in a Heritage paper, “Rapid COVID Tests: A Cure for Lockdowns, a Complement to Vaccines” and complementary webinar.