We've all been inundated with stories about the novel Coronavirus, also known as COVID19. At the forefront of the national conversation is the issue of testing. Many healthcare facilities are reporting a shortage of tests for the general public, which has led some companies to develop self-administered COVID19 testing. These tests aim to speed up and broaden testing while reducing the burden on healthcare facilities, particularly in areas with high numbers of cases.
There are a number of methods available to test patients for the COVID19 virus. The standard method is to swab a patient's nasal cavity or mouth and then test that sample for the presence of the virus. The current tests are only valid within the first week of infection; they cannot detect the presence of the virus in the lungs.
Self-administered COVID19 tests are very similar to those provided by hospitals and clinics but are less invasive and provide faster results. Standard tests are carried out by swabbing deep into a patient's nasal cavity, which can be quite uncomfortable. The new tests require that the patient swab only the front nostril and mid-nose using a tool very similar to a Q-tip. The sample is then tested for the presence of the coronavirus. The test looks for active infection-it cannot determine whether a person was infected if they have already recovered from illness. Those tests are more sophisticated, but scientists are working to develop them.
Self-administered tests have proven to be just as accurate as those provided at hospitals and clinics, with accurate results delivered for over 90% of patients who tested positive for COVID19. Because the swab is collected by the patient, healthcare providers do not require as much protective equipment like face masks and gowns. Healthcare facilities are facing a critical shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE), and self-administered testing can help ease the need. Physicians and researchers are hopeful that self-administered COVID19 testing might pave the way for at-home testing, which will eliminate the need for patients to come to a clinic.
Medical journals are currently peer-reviewing the self-administered tests, which will lay the groundwork for government approval and fast-track deployment to testing sites throughout the country. The hope is that these tests will make testing more efficient and widely available at the local level.
If you are ill, officials recommend not going to the hospital unless you experience difficulty breathing, develop a very high fever, or experience other serious symptoms or complications. However, you may be able to get tested if you feel that your symptoms suggest COVID19 infection. Many areas have established mobile or drive-up testing sites. An appointment is usually required to obtain a test, so be sure to call ahead before you visit a testing site.
The COVID19 pandemic is putting every aspect of our lives to the test in ways we could never have imagined. One thing that medical authorities agree on is the urgent need for widespread testing. The more confirmed cases that are discovered, the more data scientists and physicians have, and the more we will understand about COVID19. In the meantime, the best course of action is to remain home, wash your hands frequently, and comply with all local restrictions and recommendations.