COVID19 Testing: What Are We Doing? What Does It Mean?
In 1965, scientists identified the first human coronavirus; it was associated with the common cold. The Coronavirus family, named for their crown-like appearance, currently includes 36 viruses. Within that group, there are 4 common viruses that have been causing infection in humans for more than sixty years. In addition, three pandemic coronaviruses that can infect humans: SARS, MERS, and now, SARS-CoV-2.
As the news of deaths in China, South Korea, Italy, and Iran began to saturate every form of media 24/7, we became familiar with a new term: COVID-19. To be clear, the name of the newly identified coronavirus is SARS-CoV-2, short for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus-2. This virus is associated with fever, cough, chest pain, and shortness of breath, the complex of symptoms that form the diagnosis of COVID-19.
The Trump administration declared a public health emergency on January 31, 2020, then on February 2 placed a ban on the entry of most travelers who had recently been in China. On February 4, Alex Azar, the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a declaration of public health emergency and activated the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act, otherwise known as the PREP Act. This nefarious legislation provides complete protection of manufacturers from liability for all products, technologies, biologics, or any vaccine developed as a medical countermeasure against COVID-19. For those nervously waiting for the vaccine to become available, be sure to understand the PREP Act before rushing to the get in line.
Calls for testing – to see if a person is or isn’t infected – began soon after the emergency was declared, but performing those tests was initially slow due to an inadequate number of test kits. As the kits became available, those developed by the CDC had a defect: The reagents reacted to the negative control sample, making the test inaccurate and the kits unusable.
In various countries, thousands of test kits purchased from China were found to be contaminated with the SARS-CoV-2 viruses. No one really knows how that happened, but theories spread like wildfire. Could the test kit infect the person being tested? Or, did it mean the test would return a false-positive result, driving up the numbers of those said to be infected so those in power could implement stronger lockdowns and accelerate the hockey-stick unemployment rates? Neither of those questions has been adequately answered.
Mandatory Testing…of what?
Authorities claim that testing is important for public health officials to assess if their mitigation efforts – “shelter in place” and “social distancing” and “wearing a mask” – are making a difference to “flatten the curve.” Officials also claim that testing is necessary to know how many persons are infected within a community and to understand the nature of how coronaviruses spread.
Are these reasons sufficient to give up our health freedom and our personal rights, being tested and shamed in public?
Despite the challenges with test kits, testing began. By the end of March 2020, more than 1 million people had been tested across the US. By May 9, the number tested had grown to over 8.7M. Testing methods include a swab of the nasal passages or by inserting a long, uncomfortable swab through the nose to scrape the back of the throat. Specimens have also been obtained bronchoalveolar lavage, from sputum, and from stool specimens.
The call for mandatory testing has been gathering steam and becoming ever more onerous. In Washington state, Governor Inslee has declared:
Individuals that refuse to cooperate with contact tracers and/or refuse testing, those individuals will not be allowed to leave their homes to purchase basic necessities such as groceries and/or prescriptions. Those persons will need to make arrangements through friends, family, or state provided ‘family support’ personnel.
But what do the results really mean?
Who Should Be Tested
On May 8, 2020, the CDC has listed specific priorities for when testing should be done. As of May 16, more than 11-million samples have been collected and more than 3700 specimens have not yet been evaluated.
- Hospitalized patients with symptoms
- Healthcare facility workers, workers in living settings, and first responders with symptoms
- Residents in long-term care facilities or other congregate living settings, including prisons and shelters, with symptoms
- Persons with symptoms of potential COVID-19 infection, including fever, cough, shortness of breath, chills, muscle pain, new loss of taste or smell, vomiting or diarrhea, and/or sore throat
- Persons without symptoms who are prioritized by health departments or clinicians, for any reason, including but not limited to public health monitoring, sentinel surveillance, or screening of asymptomatic individuals according to state and local plans.
Read that last priority again: That means virtually everyone can be required to get a test.
Is that a violation of your personal rights? And, if you submit to testing, what does a “positive test” actually mean?
Types of Testing: RT-PCR
PCR, short for polymerase chain reaction, is a highly specific laboratory technique. The key to understanding PCR testing is that PCR can identify an individual specific virus within a viral family.
However, a PCR test can only be used to identify DNA viruses; the SARS-CoV2 virus is an RNA virus. Therefore, multiple steps must be taken to “magnify” the amount of genetic material in the specimen. Researchers used a method called RT-PCR, reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction, to specifically identify the SARS-CoV-2 virus. It’s a complicated process. To read more about it, go here and here.
If a nasal or a blood sample contains a tiny snip of RNA from the SARS-CoV-2 virus, RT-PCR can identify it, leading t
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