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Rapid Testing: Don’t Let Perfect Be The Enemy Of Good

There’s a lot of discussion going on regarding COVID-19 testing in the U.S. and worldwide. While there are quite a few schools of thought on the best path to take going forward, one common point of agreement is that the testing we have right now is not nearly enough to successfully contain the virus. Because of how COVID-19 spreads, the current delays between people taking their tests and getting results gives them plenty of time to spread the virus before realizing they are infected.

Rapid testing would be the ideal way to manage this, but what is the best option available when looking at this?

The Testing Question

In order to understand the issues with current testing and where rapid testing should go next, we need to take a look at the 3 factors that are most important with testing. They are as follows:

  • Sensitivity: How well the test detects viral particles
  • Cost: The expense involved with equipment and materials to process the test
  • Speed: Not only how quickly tests are administered, but how soon results can come back

Right now, a lot of people are prioritizing sensitivity, and they have some reasonable logic about it. After all, the more sensitivity, the less risk of false positives. However, those demanding a halt to rapid testing until certain sensitivity benchmarks are reached are letting perfect be the enemy of good. A solid, fast test is better than a perfect slower test due to how COVID-19 spreads. The only way to quickly isolate people in group settings is to get rapid test results as quickly as possible. A 70% accurate test in 2 days is better than a 90% that takes a week and a half to process.

Your Rapid Testing Program

So, let’s say that the workplace was looking to put together a testing plan with these principles in mind. What would they need to focus on? Generally, you would need to implement a workplace rapid-testing plan, but doing it for your entire workforce may be logistically and financially too difficult to pull off. The compromise here is looking to focus on weekly or daily testing for individuals who fail a self-assessment or are considered high risk. What exactly does this entail?

Generally, failing a COVID-19 self-assessment either means showcasing potential symptoms of the virus or having been in contact with someone infected with COVID-19. High risk can take on a number of different forms. In some cases, people are at high risk due to their chance of transmission. These are people who are at higher exposure risk by nature of their job and how it impacts the ability to socially distance. Examples here can include:

  • On-site office workers (as opposed to remote)
  • Factory workers
  • Professional athletes
  • Law enforcement

In other cases, this boils down to people who are at a greater risk of issues due to their medical history. We have evidence showing that certain medical conditions or other factors lead to a higher risk of complications or death due to infection. Any rapid testing measures should focus on these populations first.

This is emblematic about the attitude we need to have about COVID-19 and preventative measures. Yes, things like wearing basic PPE, general testing, and other best practices aren’t going to 100% eliminate the chance of transmission. But if we think about things in the long-term, even the slightest decline in transmission can pay major dividends in terms of overall public health. Rapid testing, even with a larger false-positive rate, is better for community health than infrequent testing.

However, we also need to complement that with other tools that make rapid testing easier to implement. A good example is COVID-PreCheck. Visit or use it from the COVID PreCheck app. In a workplace setting, you would require clients, employees, and other visitors to perform a self-assessment, lab test, or rapid test once those are commonly available. When you have this, you can get a QR code sent to your phone showing your testing results. When you are proven negative, this will make it easier to showcase the result to enter your workplace.