Epidemiologist says COVID-19 restrictions could have been prevented if US approved widespread rapid tests

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Although he understands the need for the latest round of COVID-19 restrictions and closures in Pennsylvania and across the country, one Harvard epidemiologist believes they could have been preventable altogether — by utilizing testing technology that already exists.

Harvard epidemiologist Michael Mina called the closures frustrating, but predictable.

“We have put ourselves into a position where we don’t really have another choice if our goals are to slow transmission,” he said.

But, he said, a paper-strip antigen test — which can be taken at home, at schools, or even at the front door of a restaurant — could prevent the need to close schools or restaurants in the first place.

“This little piece of paper has the potential to drop the probability of someone walking in being a transmitter by 98% to 99%,” he added.

The widespread antigen tests are cheap yet reliable to catch the infectious virus, and since they could be used frequently, he said they would be the best tool to catch anyone who’s carrying the virus before they spread it.

“PCR tests, from a public health transmission perspective, they are purposeless,” Mina explained. “If it’s taking days to get back, by the time you get it, you’ve already done 90% of your transmissions.”

The goal isn’t to replace PCR tests as a diagnostic tool but to use the paper-strip tests as a separate public health tool — technology, by the way, that already exists. Members of the NFL, NBA and the White House, as well as celebrities in Hollywood, have been using them for months.

“We already are building about 8 million of them a day in the United States, but we’re sending most of them overseas,” he said, largely because the federal government and the FDA won’t accept them as public health tools. “The rich and famous are using the tests, but then we have a system that is stopping from getting these very tests.

“It’s extraordinarily frustrating to me that we’re back in this position — completely predictable months ago. Predictable in March.”