Harvard Professor: US Needs To Triple Number Of Daily Coronavirus Tests

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NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — Are we doing enough coronavirus testing across the country every day to safely reopen?

WCBS 880’s Lynda Lopez spoke with Dr. Ashish Jha, a professor of global health at Harvard University and director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, who says the country needs to ramp up testing dramatically. 

The doctor testified before the House subcommittee on the coronavirus saying testing levels are no where near where they should be. Currently, there are about 300,000 COVID-19 tests every day in the United States, and he says that number needs to triple.

“We should be really closer to about 900,000, about three times where we are right now if we want to be able to open up safely and remain open,” the doctor said. 

Dr. Jha also stressed that the level of testing would have to happen along with social distancing and other safety measures, which will have to remain in effect. 

“We have to maintain some amount of social distance even when we open up. There's not going to be – we can't be going back to crowded bars or going out to baseball games – but, that said, it's not just about testing, it’s testing tied with tracing and isolation, always suppressing the amount of the virus in a community so we can go about our daily business and get back to some semblance of normal life,” he explains. 

Lopez reports that some of the COVID-19 tests are not as reliable, however, and some are giving a high percentage of wrong results. 

Dr. Jha, though, believes ramping up testing with bring that percentage of false results down.

“Most of the tests are still reliable and, you know, there is a certain false negative rate, which is unfortunate, obviously, you want the tests to be perfect,” he said. “But, if we get to those levels with the quality of the test we have right now, I still think that even though occasional experiences will be that you have a false test result, overall will be able to keep the virus levels down in our communities.”

While testing for the virus is crucial, many areas of the country are placing a priority on antibody testing – something Dr. Jha does not see a crucial. 

“Antibody testing is really to look for immunity in the community and while I think that's really interesting and important, that's not a critical part of opening up our country right now, because so few people have been infected, there aren't large numbers of people walking around with immunity,” he explains. 

When asked if healthy people should be tested for antibodies, the doctor responded, essentially, that it wouldn’t hurt.

“There’s been a few studies in New York and we think that between 20 and 25% of all New Yorkers have been infected and have cleared the infection, so I think for New Yorkers who wanna go get an antibody test, it's not unreasonable and if it turns out to be positive, with a high-quality test, then there's a reasonable chance that they might have immunity from the virus in the future, and we'll know for sure I think in the upcoming weeks to months,” Dr. Jha explains. 

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