All of us hope that a Covid-19 vaccine will bring an end to our current suffering. But even in the best-case scenario, by the time a vaccine is widely available, hundreds of thousands more lives will be lost. We must use the tools at our disposal to control the virus. Rapid antigen tests could make a difference, but we need much more of them. Mass producing these tests and distributing them to all in need should be the first task of the Biden Covid-19 Task Force and eventual administration.
Since the start of the pandemic, the United States has administered far fewer tests than necessary. A testing tracker developed by the Harvard Global Health Institute suggests that the United States is administering barely more than half the tests we need. Current testing regimes and test supplies are simply not good enough. Most of these early tests took days or even weeks to deliver results, possibly allowing the patient to spread the virus in that time if they were positive.
Federal authorities left test administration to the states, leaving many states underfunded, unorganized, and outmatched by the virus’s raging spread. The FDA recently approved the first rapid antigen test for home use. These tests are the key to controlling the destructive spread of Covid-19 we experience today.
We suggest a mass production project yielding 150 million tests per day, meaning every person in the United States is tested two or three times per week. These tests will be universal, as in accessible by everyone regardless of region, income, or health status; they will be self-administered, as in any adult could test themselves and their children at home without the aid of a healthcare worker, then receiving results within about fifteen minutes. They will be remarkably inexpensive, meaning ideally fifty cents per rapid test.
President-elect Biden should activate the Defense Production Act so these tests can be mass-produced. Earlier in the pandemic, the Defense Production Act was activated to increase the production of N-95 respirator masks and ventilators, so it seems Biden could quickly bolster rapid test production via the same method. We have the production facility capabilities; we have the technology available to produce these tests en masse; we just need a leader to coordinate this effort.
When these tests are more widely available, there must be a coordinated national effort to control the virus and financially support the households with positive cases. Covid-19 is spreading rapidly: approaching two hundred thousand infections and two thousand deaths every day. Rapid tests will catch both contagious asymptomatic and symptomatic cases. Those with a positive test or a positive case in the household must stay home.
Even if sick leave isn’t available in their jobs, the hope is that many people will do their best not to infect those they regularly see and love. Though ideally, sick leave of around $500 per person in an isolating household per day would be available. A positive Covid-19 test should not equate to a lost paycheck and no food on the table for a family.
Without a coordinated effort, the virus will continue to spread. At the current rate, by the end of February, there will be an additional sixteen million cases and one hundred fifty thousand deaths. With all likelihood, infection and death rates will continue to rise due to holiday travelers, so those estimates are incredibly conservative. The pandemic is going to get worse before it gets better. A vaccine will be a great weapon against the virus, but we can’t wait until then. President-Elect Biden: It’s time to take charge and fix this.