US Can Soon Do 75,000 Tests A Day: Will It Be Enough?

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Posted: Mar 23, 2020 12:37 PM
US Can Soon Do 75,000 Tests A Day: Will It Be Enough?

Source: AP Photo/Seth Wenig

US coronavirus testing capability will soar to 75,000 per day by the end of the week. But key questions remain.

How Long Will the Coronavirus Lockdowns Go On?

Here's the key question of the day: How Long Will the Coronavirus Lockdowns Go On?

It will soon be clear why Covid-19 can’t be allowed to rage through the country untamed. The intense restrictions—telling Americans to stay inside in New York, California and other states—are necessary.

For this to work, the U.S. will need widespread testing to know where and to what extent the virus is spreading. Testing capacity has increased significantly in the past few weeks thanks to relentless efforts from public, academic and private labs such as Quest and LabCorp. Producers of testing kits are also working overtime. A new test developed by Cepheid can be deployed in a doctor’s office.

By the end of next week, the U.S. will have the capacity in place to screen more than 75,000 people a day.

Another step: serological surveillance, which means blood tests to detect antibodies developed to fight the novel coronavirus. These antibodies confer immunity and can reveal whether a person has been exposed. If a sizable portion of a local community has some protection, authorities can be more confident in relying on less invasive measures. Once deployed, serological tests are cheap, straightforward, and easy to scale.

One strategy would be to infuse convalescent plasma—antibodies from the blood of patients who have recovered from Covid-19. This could help boost the immune response in those recently infected. Arturo Casadevall of Johns Hopkins outlined such an approach in these pages last month. Another approach uses antiviral drugs to target the virus and block its replication. Pharmaceutical companies are pulling antiviral drugs off the shelf and testing them rapidly.

Perhaps the most promising option for now is antibody drugs engineered by biotech companies that target features on the virus’s surface. This strategy was used with success against Ebola. These medications can be given as a prophylaxis to prevent infection for doctors or older populations at high risk of exposure, and can also be used on infected patients. Regeneron developed one such treatment against Ebola. The company has a product in the works to target Covid-19 that could be ready as soon as this summer.

The above article was a WSJ Op-Ed written by Dr. Gottlieb, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a board member of health-care companies. He was commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, 2017-19.

Two Key Fundamentals

  • Population of the United States: 327 million
  • Testing Capability: 75,000 Per Day

Basic Math

327 Million / (75,000 / Day) = 4,360 Days

In about 12 years, we can test everyone.

Hooray?!

How a Boy’s Blood Stopped an Outbreak

Here's a technique that appears more promising: How a Boy’s Blood Stopped an Outbreak

It isn’t every day that a school physician’s work gets published in a medical journal. But it happened in 1934, and the story contains a lesson for the coronavirus epidemic.

A Pottstown, Pa., boy identified as C.Y. was exposed to measles. The boy was quarantined in the Hill School’s infirmary; he developed a severe case of measles but recovered. Yet he infected two other students, who exposed others.

Fearing a wider outbreak, the school doctor, J. Roswell Gallagher, took serum from C.Y. (as well as some from a public-health lab) and administered small amounts to 62 boys at risk. Serum can be extracted and prepared from a simple blood draw. Only three of the 62 boys developed measles—all mild cases. This was a remarkable victory against a highly contagious disease. The episode was important enough to warrant publication the following year in the American Journal of Public Health. (Decades later, Gallagher pioneered the field of adolescent health. He died at 92 in 1995.)

How did it work? The simple explanation is that patients who recover from an infectious disease often produce antibodies that can protect against later infections with the same microbe. This immunity can be transferred by giving serum to those at risk of infection.

In the early 20th century, physicians realized that they could prevent certain infectious diseases by taking serum from recovered patients and administering doses to those at risk of infection. This approach was used to stem outbreaks of measles, polio and mumps. Modern medicine continues to use antibodies from human serum to prevent certain infections such as rabies and hepatitis B.

If the FDA (Federal Death Agency) and CDC insist on years worth of trials, how many will die while waiting?