The Harvard Gazette ran the following headline last week: Cheap, frequent COVID tests could be “akin to vaccine,” professor says.
There now exists a new generation of inexpensive saliva tests that Harvard epidemiologist, Michael Mina, says, “can be as effective as a vaccine at interrupting coronavirus transmission – and is currently the only viable option for a quick return to an approximation of normal life … These are our only hope. We don’t have anything tomorrow, other than shutting down the economy and keeping schools closed.”
As the article goes on to say, “The strategy, if adopted and backed by the federal government, could put hundreds of millions of tests in the hands of consumers within weeks, at a cost far less than repeated rounds of economic stimulus Mina said, The tests, which can be produced for less than a dollar, can be performed by consumers each day or every other day. Though not as accurate as currant diagnostic tests, they are nevertheless effective at detecting virus when a person is most infectious. If everyone who tests positive stays home, he said, the widespread effect would be similar to that of a vaccine, breaking transmission chains across the country.”
This strategy would be even more effective when combined with an app, that Los Angeles Mayor, Eric Garcetti, went on TV to recommend to everyone last week: www.SafePass.com is a free, Bluetooth-based registration service that can stop the spreading of the coronavirus in a matter of day. You put it on your phone, and in case anyone has been in your proximity that has tested Positive for the coronavirus, they will be notified and scheduled for screening by a medical professional a free testing and testing with a more accurate test.
The service is anonymous. You don’t know who has tested positive. You only know that you should go in immediately for the second test, and the local health department is informed of that too. Let’s see how this can bring back flying and cruising in a matter of weeks.
When you decide it’s time to go out in public once more, you register for SafePass.com. That provides an envelope of protection that notifies you, and the public health authorities, if anyone around you recently has been infected. Once you do this, you go about your normal business.
If you buy a flight or a cruise, about a week before you’re scheduled to leave, a supply of what we’ll call “Rapid Chewable Tests” (RCTs) arrive at your home. The tests are merely a thin piece of paper that you put in your mouth and chew to make a spitball. You put the spitball aside, and, ifs it turns a particular color in a few minutes, you know you have tested Positive.
You call the toll-free number on the box and inform them that you need a more accurate test. That test will likely be arranged at a local medical facility (or possibly a drive-in testing station or at your home) within a day, and the results will be available within an hour, again, at no cost to you.
… If you test Negative, you’ll be asked to retest every day before you fly or cruise, and you’ll be automatically tested at the airport and the ship before you enter and maybe every day thereafter until you return home.
… If you test Positive on the more accurate test, anyone that SafePass knows has been in your vicinity in the last several days will be notified. You will receive free credit or refunds for your flights or cruises, and you will begin quarantining at home or somewhere else. You can begin medical treatments if symptoms are found.
This isn’t a fantasy. The tests are available now in small quantities and, since the formulas have been already published, production can be ramped up within a matter of days. The tests have been developed at Harvard, MIT, and by the 3M Corporation. The remaining problems are largely political.
The Food & Drug Administration hasn’t approved this genre of tests for widespread use because it says they aren’t as accurate for individual diagnoses. However, used as described, they don’t need to be as accurate as a swab test, because Positive results on the RCT will always be followed up with a swab-type test and a screening by a medical professional. Negative results will be followed up by additional tests daily or on alternating days.
Also, used in concert with SafePass, they will spread the envelope of protection that much further since anyone will be able to get the RCTs for close to a dollar each – without a prescription at local pharmacies or by mail. Also, many people may feel comfortable patronizing local restaurants and stores where everyone has been tested as they enter. (“Just give me a spitball and in five minutes I’ll take you to your table.”).
There are rumors in Silicon Valley, from biotech executives, that RCTs will be approved in October. The prediction is supported by a letter, that Congressman Ro Khanna (D-CA), who represents Silicon Valley, sent to the FDA. It urged immediate acceptance of these tests. The letter also verified the one-dollar price target. He was joined in this request by a bipartisan group of other representatives.
Is the October date likely because we’ll be closer to the election and this will make up for news of delays in bringing vaccines to market? Frankly, I don’t care, if it gets us flying and cruising going once again.
Dr. Steve Frankel and his wife have sailed on most of the Seabourn, Silversea, Crystal, Azamara, Oceania, Regent, and Windstar ships on more than 40 cruises. Steve’s company, Cruises & Cameras, LLC, partners with LUXE Travel, a FROSCH Company, and the Signature Travel Network. Since the start of the Covid-19 Pandemic, he’s earned two certificates in epidemiology from Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health. He’s using what he has learned in six courses, along with his earlier training in measurement and statistics, to help his clients deal with the realities of the pandemic. His most recent book is How to Plan Your Next and BEST Cruise (Amazon, 2019, 186 pages). His email address is Steve@CruisesAndCameras.com.