The short-term future of COVID-19 testing

This week, I had a story on COVID-19 testing published in Slate’s Future Tense vertical. The piece explores how testing will change in the next few months as more Americans become vaccinated and rapid tests become more widely available. In the CDD today, I’m excited to share one of the interviews I conducted for the piece, with Dan Larremore, a statistician at the University of Colorado and long-time advocate for the potential of rapid tests.

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We’re not doing enough sequencing to detect B.1.1.7

A new, more transmissible strain of COVID-19 (known as B.1.1.7) has caused quite a stir these past few weeks. It surfaced in the United Kingdom and has been detected in eight states: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, New York, Texas, and Pennsylvania. The fact that a mutant strain happened isn’t a surprise, as RNA viruses mutate quite often. But as vaccines roll out, the spread of a new strain is yet another reminder that we’re nowhere near out of the woods yet.

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It is, once again, time to talk about antigen testing

Antigen tests have become a major part of the national testing strategy. Six tests have received Emergency Use Authorization from the FDA. After Abbott’s antigen test was given this okay-to-distribute in late August, the White House quickly purchased 150 million tests and made plans to distribute them across the country. Context: the U.S. has done about 131 million total tests since the pandemic began, according to the COVID Tracking Project’s most recent count. Clearly, antigen testing is here—and beginning to scale up. But most states are ill-prepared to report the antigen tests going on in their jurisdictions, and federal public health agencies are barely reporting them at all.

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How did the Bachelorette test contestants?

This week, for the first time since I was peer-pressured into watching the Bachelor franchise two-ish years ago, I listened to a recap podcast. To be clear, this was not your typical Bachelor franchise recap podcast. The hosts did not judge contestants on their attractiveness, nor did they speculate about the significance of the First Impression Rose. Instead, it was POLITICO’s Dan Diamond and Jeremy Siegel, discussing COVID-19 safety precautions and public health messaging as seen on The Bachelorette.

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CMS data and reporting updates

The county-level testing dataset published by CMS has become a regular topic for this newsletter since it was released in early September. As a refresher for newer readers: CMS publishes both total PCR tests and test positivity rates for every county in the country; the dataset is intended as a resource for nursing home administrators, who are required to test their residents and staff at regular intervals based on the status of their county. This past Monday, October 5, I was pleasantly surprised to find a new update posted on CMS’ COVID-19 data page.

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Where are the rapid testing data?

Abbott ID NOW tests are in use across the country. 11 million of them have been distributed since March. But where are the tests being used, how many of them have returned positive results, and are they being used correctly—to quickly diagnose patients with COVID-19 symptoms? Without these data, it is difficult to determine whether Abbott’s test should be part of America’s testing strategy going forward.

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COVID source callout: Utah

Utah was one of the first states to begin reporting antigen tests back in early August. The state is also one of only three to report an antigen testing time series, rather than simply the total number of tests conducted. However, the format in which Utah presents these data is… challenging. Rather than reporting daily antigen test counts—or […]

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