Why Testing Matters More Now Than Ever
With case numbers still high, coronavirus testing remains essential, experts say, but the goals and approach will change as vaccines roll out. We have good reason to hope that the several vaccines on the market and booster shots will turn the tide. But we’ve learned since the vaccine and booster roll out that we still need to employ other tools from the COVID-19 response toolbox for some time to come. Perhaps the most important of these is testing.
With multiple vaccines in the market, many observers are asking whether the need for testing will decline. So why is everyone saying testing is the answer? The simple answer we need to diagnose people who are sick. Case numbers remain high, and clinicians still need to identify individuals who have contracted the virus so that these people can receive proper treatment and care. The gold standard for diagnosing Covid-19 is the polymerase chain reaction, or P.C.R., test, which can identify even small traces of genetic material from the coronavirus.
We test so we can slow the spread of the disease. Testing is important not just for identifying individual patients who need treatment but also for public health. When the system is working, a timely Covid-19 diagnosis is what triggers contact tracing and quarantining and can stop virus transmission in its tracks.
As schools and offices reopen, routine screening of asymptomatic people will help minimize viral spread. Leading scientists say as testing becomes the norm, many will rely on rapid antigen tests, which are less sensitive than P.C.R. tests but are cheaper and can return results in 15 minutes. When antigen tests are used routinely and frequently, they can be effective in identifying infectious individuals and reducing viral transmission.
What’s more, large screening programs may also help institutions assess the effectiveness of their risk-reduction strategies. If cases begin to rise, schools and offices may find they need to change their mask policies, enforce greater social distancing or boost their ventilation rates.
It’s important for every person to know their results through testing. That way they can know their risk to themselves, co-workers and the people they love, and take proper precautions.