Back in August I wrote that cheap $5, 15 minute Covid-19 tests could really open up travel and other activities.
- If testing was cheap enough and available enough, everyone could test themselves everyday
- Testing could be done on the spot before travel. Everyone would know that everyone else on board had been tested.
These are highly specific and sensitive tests, but not perfect. Still they’re likely better than a PCR test taken days in the past, taken only by a handful of travelers.
The good news is that the Abbott Labs BinaxNOW test I wrote about four months ago has finally received an Emergency Use Authorization. The bad news is that this $5 test is now a $30 test because in order to approve it the government required people taking the test to be monitored. And it requires a prescription.
Here’s Harvard epidemiology and immunology professor Michael Mina:
The test IS the type of rapid test I have been calling for.
BUT: requires a prescription – and instead of $5 it will cost an additional $25 for a digital MD service to have someone watch you use it
Example of taking a simple cheap test and making it difficult/inaccessible
— Michael Mina (@michaelmina_lab) December 16, 2020
What if someone self-administers a test wrong? (This happens even with professionally-administered tests, and contributes to error rates.) What if someone tests positive and results aren’t reported directly to health authorities? (In much of the country there’s very little contact tracing being done, either because of lack of investment or because the virus is so widespread it’s simply not possible.)
BinaxNOW, by the way, effectively uses the same methodology as an over-the-counter pregnancy test. And self-sampling from the anterior nose is considered reliable.
The FDA’s stance has been to prohibit testing that they cannot fully controlled, preferring less testing over frequent self-testing that isn’t monitored, with direct access to results. Remember the FDA forbid use of any test other than the CDC test that didn’t work at the start of the pandemic.
The Ellume test, available at home without a prescription starting in January, is expected to cost $30 as well with results reported via an app (“That app automatically sends data by Zip code to the cloud — ensuring that regional health officials can learn about positive results”).
We know it’s possible to have $5 at home tests, because we now have one. It’s likely possible to drive the cost down further. Then, at least until spread and vaccination brings the virus under control, many people could test themselves every day and know to self-isolate when a result comes back positive. Companies could require it of workers. Businesses could require it of consumers. That doesn’t eliminate the risk of spread, but it substantially reduces it, and lets normal life resume. It’s possible, if only the government would allow it.
Current tests at the $75 – $150 price point aren’t working, just look at daily case counts in the U.S. Maybe sub-$5 paper strip tests are worth a try.