Coronavirus

Harvard doctor presents plan to ‘get us out of this COVID-19 war’

“This should not be about politics—it is about human beings—and we should be acting like it.”

A nurse prepares to administer a polymerise chain reaction (PCR) test. (Nati Harnik / AP Photo)

A Harvard epidemiologist is pressing for a new plan to approaching the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, which would utilize widespread frequent rapid antigen tests to stop the spread of the virus.

Michael Mina, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Harvard University, wrote in Time that so far the U.S. government has put most of its effort into the development of a vaccine, but the doctor urged that a multi-pronged public health approach is needed to prevent further cases and deaths. 

“We are at war with a virus that is currently winning by taking two 9/11’s worth of victims every week — by Christmas it could be three.” Mina wrote in the Tuesday article. “There is no question that if 1,000 Americans were dying each day in a war, we would act swiftly and decisively. Yet, we are not. This should not be about politics — it is about human beings — and we should be acting like it.”

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The Harvard professor argued that antigen testing is the “best possible tool” for addressing the pandemic, but it is not being used.

Investing in widespread, frequent antigen testing would mean reducing the spread of the virus without relying on lockdowns to tamp down on rising cases, he argued.

The Harvard epidemiologist has been advocating for antigen tests for months

“The government would ship the tests to participating households and make them available in schools or workplaces,” Mina wrote of his plan. “This program doesn’t require the entire population to participate. Even if half of the community disregards their results or chooses to not participate altogether, outbreaks would still be turned around in weeks.

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“The point is to use these tests frequently so people are likely to know their status early, before they transmit to others,” he wrote. “It is frequency and speed to get results, and not absolute sensitivity of the test that should take center stage in a public health screening program to stop outbreaks.”

The Food and Drug Administration announced Tuesday it is allowing rapid at-home coronavirus tests for emergency use, but they require a prescription, meaning their initial use will likely be limited.

Mina blasted the F.D.A. for not figuring out more quickly the authorization and use of at-home rapid antigen tests and urged states to “accelerate” new approaches to widespread testing. If the federal response isn’t there, the Harvard professor said states should approach tech companies for assistance. 

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This Plan works WITH the people and meets them where they are,” Mina wrote of his plan on Twitter. “It works WITH all the other public health approaches we are already taking — it does not replace them. It is bold and ambitious — and addresses the fact that we are actually in a war with a virus.”

https://twitter.com/michaelmina_lab/status/1328882648966696960

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