May 15, 2020
In the Meantime…
- While personal protective equipment and social distancing are certainly valid protections, as we have touched on previously, they are not feasible for some businesses, simply because of their nature.
- We need to ensure funding that will give laboratories that are making progress the means to perfect their works in a timely manner.
Around the world, leaders are experimenting with rollbacks and modifications of protections that were put in place in response to COVID-19. While this may be good news for many business owners, it will not be an instant cure-all and should not be thought of as such. There are many people who are concerned about the possibility of a second wave of coronavirus. These are people who will continue to isolate and will not return to their regular patronage until they feel they can do so with a high probability of safety. They know that if we act as though the threat has passed, we won’t be safe at all.
While personal protective equipment and social distancing are certainly valid protections, as we have touched on previously, they are not feasible for some businesses, simply because of the nature of those businesses. Viral testing, or diagnostic testing, is becoming more readily available and if used well, could begin to offer more freedom to and in venues. Unfortunately, we still have a lot of work to do.
Multiple companies are working on tests that detect the presence of the coronavirus. And there are presently “rapid” tests in use, tests that could be ideal for vendors seeking to provide safe spaces for their clientele. Spaces where people could be allowed freedom to congregate without fear knowing that they and other patrons were not carrying the virus at a given point and time. However, this is more easily said than done. A test put out by Abbott Labs that offers results in five to thirteen minutes. Abbott has shipped approximately 1.4 million rapid result tests. A study by New York University has found disappointing preliminary results concerning the accuracy of Abbott’s rapid test. The short version is the study found the rapid test to have an unacceptable percentage of false negatives.
This example highlights two grave concerns. The first being accuracy of administration. The second is accuracy of the rapid tests themselves. As far as most businesses are concerned, a five to ten-minute wait for patrons is manageable, but forty-five minutes to several hours is not. This is where we come to funding. The recently proposed HEROES Act would provide 75 billion dollars for coronavirus testing, but that is currently an unhatched chicken. As citizens and consumers, we need to demand that our government officials prioritize funding for research and development of tests that are applicable to point of sale screening for small businesses so that we can safely reopen.
Biomerica is developing an antibody test that is already being evaluated for order by other countries, but has not been approved for distribution in the Unites States, although the company is based in California. There is no implication here that we should relax research and testing standards to make a product available sooner. What we need to do is ensure funding that will give laboratories that are making progress the means to perfect their works in a timely manner. By the way, the projected cost of Biomerica’s test is $10.00 per test with results in ten minutes. Of course, it seems safe to assume that there will be a markup of some sort after the tests leave Biomerica’s hands.
As most of us know by now, antibody tests no matter how accurate, cannot be the only solution we employ right now for several reasons. Foremost, we don’t know what protections carrying antibodies may offer. And if we do discover that they offer protection, it will take the passage of time, and repeat testing to ascertain the timeline of protection.
Point of sale testing would benefit many venues in their attempts to safely reopen. Many companies have at home testing kits in the works, and while this seems applicable to businesses at first glance, these tests must be sent in to laboratories to be processed and interpreted. Even if we assume a relatively fast turnaround time, for example two days, this is too long to be of use for businesses wanting to assure themselves and patrons that everybody in their venue is currently uninfected. Negative results from a test sample taken two days previously mean next to nothing. Also, the costs would be prohibitive for many businesses.
What we need is affordable testing with on the spot results. There is some concern about collection of samples for the at home tests, and it is valid. However, if presented with a diagnostic test that is affordable and available to businesses, but requires administration by a trained professional, we could easily bridge that gap. OraSure Technologies has an at home product in development that will allow operators to use saliva rather than a more complicated oral or nasal swab. The test would provide results at home in twenty minutes. However, it is still several months out from potential FDA approval.
There is a gulf developing between those who want businesses to reopen and those who want to feel safe. These things should not be mutually exclusive. We all have a vested interest in both. Therefore, we should all be pushing for extensive funding of research and development for tests that will directly facilitate reopening. While researchers work on developing the products, we, the people and our government, need to figure out how to make those tests cost effective, because if they are to be used as we have discussed here, it will be an ongoing, repetitive process. More like unlocking your phone, than getting your driver’s license, if you will.
This is not an inexpensive undertaking. However, it is a necessary one. As mentioned earlier, PPE is not an effective solution for all businesses. The good news is, it will continue to suffice well for others, even indefinitely. There is no need to liberate banks or grocery stores, for example. Those types of businesses can continue using masks and other PPE without compromising the nature of their function, or their customers’ experience. This good news allows us to focus on venues that are most in need of point of sale screening.
Although some are rushing to indulge in excursions and activities, a surprising number of people are taking a more cautious approach, and choosing to continue adhering to strictures that have been loosened. These are the people who will reward those businesses who step up to provide safe access with their patronage.
If you ruled the world, how would you handle testing? We’d love to know.