Commentary: Testing in the short term will help get us past the crunch

By Dan Cannon

We are well into the first month of major COVID-19 infections in patches around our country, with most of the country awaiting the worst.

Unfortunately, we are very much behind the eight ball in the most heavily infected areas, with New York an unwilling template for reaction to infections spikes.

Even with a late start, experts rightly keep emphasizing that in the short term our only real “tools” are the lockdown, quarantine, and shelter-in-place orders in a majority of states. Adherence to these orders may substantially tamp down infection rates and may substantially reduce the total number of infections.

However, lacking effective treatments and preventatives or vaccines, the current blunt instrument approach (lockdowns) is akin to a blindfolded firefighter in a forest fire shooting water everywhere with limited effectiveness. 

That describes the need for much more scientific testing in the short term to establish targeted actions, including some quarantine and lockdown orders.

Short-term testing should provide critical information in several areas:

1. Identifying COVID-19 infections different from other infections, e.g. influenza

2. Reassuring and treating front-line responders (and families) with regular exposure to COVID-19 patients

3. Tracing then treating possible COVID-19 infections in those exposed to infected individuals, particularly those who may be asymptomatic but still carrying the virus

4. Scientific random sampling in areas not yet experiencing infection peaks to identify “hidden” and developing pockets of COVID-19 infections in order to systematically identify, isolate, and treat those who are infectious before they present a test of the local health care systems

5. Scientific random sampling in areas not yet experiencing infection peaks in order to accurately predict and plan for needed medical remedies, supplies, personnel, etc. in the future

6. Begin following and evaluating COVID-19 infection survivors to determine their level(s) of antibodies/resistance to the virus and the safety of their interactions with the non-infected populace in order to set the stage for their return to work and normal activities.

This war against the novel coronavirus is not one that will be resolved in a few weeks nor likely in a couple of months.  Winning the war will take scientific testing at many levels to allow effective planning for: 

A. Short term virus mitigation (as above);

B. Intermediate term virus control and preliminary steps to carefully reestablish work patterns for some people; and 

C. Long term virus suppression, wide-spread vaccine facilitated resistance and ultimately return of the general populace to what will most likely be a new/different normal in many respects.

These outcomes are certainly possible but will depend on facts established through scientific testing and evaluation, not just hopes, dreams, and wishes for the best.

Dan Cannon lives in Seaford.