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There are still not enough Covid-19 tests in the United States. Will quick tests help?

As a third increase in coronavirus threatens much of the United States, public health experts across the country say there are still not enough tests available to keep the virus under control.

Right now, some doctors and hospitals are offering quick tests to patients, which can yield results in minutes. And over the next few weeks, major pharmacy retailers like CVS and Walgreens say they will start offering a type of rapid test called an antigen test, which some hope will give Americans more access to testing.

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“Cross-line testing is needed,”

; Gigi Kwik Gronvall, senior researcher at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told NBC News.

Approximately 30 million Covid-19 tests are given each month, according to estimates from The Atlantic magazine’s Covid Tracking Project. But studies have shown that, according to a report, the United States would need millions more — 193 million a month to be effective.

A major problem has been a lack of important test supplies that have plagued laboratories since the start of the pandemic.

“The supply chain has not met the demand,” said Dr. Patrick Godbey, president of the College of American Pathologists. “We still can not get enough reagents to perform the tests we would like to perform. It’s not just testing reagents, but supplies like swabs. ”

In response, the federal government is pushing rapid or point-of-care testing as opposed to gold standard polymerase chain reaction or PCR testing, which requires samples to be sent to a laboratory for analysis and may take days to return.

Two weeks ago, the Department of Health and Human Services began sending states rapid antigen tests conducted by Abbott Labs. The test is the simplest to date because it does not require a machine and the results take about 15 minutes. Some state health officials told NBC News that the tests will be used in nursing homes and schools.

“In general, I say it’s a good start,” said Dr. Michael Mina, an epidemiologist at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, on Friday on a call with journalists. “But I am extraordinarily frustrated that the federal government is just continuing this position where their only strategy is to buy what becomes available through industry and companies in the private market.”

“Different places need different types of tests,” Gronvall said. “The most important feature is the speed at which you can deliver accurate results.”

But accuracy has been the thorn in the side of rapid testing, as witnessed this month as nearly 20 members of the Trump administration and campaign, including the president and first lady, became infected with the virus. All White House staff and visitors are said to undergo regular rapid testing to screen for Covid-19.

The problem is that rapid tests are not as sensitive as PCR tests, where as many as 1 in 4 results are false negatives.

About a dozen rapid tests have been approved for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration. All are intended for patients who experience symptoms, for that is when they have higher levels of viruses in their bodies.

“The point-of-care tests have their place and it needs to be defined by the individual situation,” Godbey said. “You are in the doctor’s office and you come in and have a fever along with symptoms that started five to seven days ago. The quick test has a place there. ”

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But the fear is that as these tests become more accessible, they could be used as a screening tool similar to what the White House does, a method that returned after guests at a Rose Garden event last month were told that they did not need to wear masks after getting a negative fast test result. At least a dozen of these guests ended up getting sick from the virus.

“Negative results should not be considered a guarantee of negativity or security,” said Dr. Christopher Polage, Director of the Clinical Microbiology Laboratory at Duke University Health System.

A new study looking at Abbott’s antigen test, called BinaxNow, found that it could act as a supplement to PCR testing. While the study was small and the results have not yet been published or peer-reviewed, researchers at the University of California, San Francisco found that out of 26 people who tested positive on a PCR test, 15 of them were also identified on Abbott’s test. . However, researchers point out that these 15 were the most contagious because they also had a large amount of virus in their samples. Almost half of these 15 were asymptomatic.

“Breaking the back of this pandemic could be accelerated if we could implement and act on a rapid test that detects the individuals who are most contagious and require isolation, many of whom may be asymptomatic,” said study author Dr. Diane Havlir in a news release. “PCR remains the gold standard, but a strategic combination of these tests can help in public health settings where rapid results and knowledge of transmission risk on test day are critical.”

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Akshay Syal the contribution.

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