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Infectious disease experts say testing is key to reopening


The key to opening up the American economy rests on the ability to conduct mass testing, according to the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA).

As policymakers weigh how to safely reopen parts of the United States, the IDSA, along with its HIV Medicine Association, issued a set of recommendations outlining the steps that would be necessary in order to begin easing physical distancing measures.

“A stepwise approach to reopening should reflect early diagnosis and enhanced surveillance for COVID-19 cases, linkage of cases to appropriate levels of care, isolation and/or quarantine, contact tracing, and data processing capabilities for state and local public health departments,” according to the recommendation document.

Some of the recommended steps include the following:

  • Widespread testing and surveillance, including use of validated nucleic acid amplification assays and anti–SARS-CoV-2 antibody detection.
  • The ability to diagnose, treat, and isolate individuals with COVID-19.
  • Scaling up of health care capacity and supplies to manage recurrent episodic outbreaks.
  • Maintaining a degree of physical distancing to prevent recurrent outbreaks, including use of masks, limiting gatherings, and continued distancing for susceptible adults.

“The recommendations stress that physical distancing policy changes must be based on relevant data and adequate public health resources and capacities and calls for a rolling and incremental approach to lifting these restrictions, ” Thomas File Jr., MD, IDSA president and a professor at Northeastern Ohio Universities, Rootstown, said during an April 17 press briefing.

The rolling approach “must reflect state and regional capacities for diagnosing, isolating, and treating people with the virus, tracing their contacts, protecting health care workers, and addressing the needs of populations disproportionately affected by COVID-19,” he continued.

In order to fully lift physical distancing restrictions, there would need to be effective treatments for COVID-19 and a protective vaccine that can be deployed to key at-risk populations, according to the recommendations.

During the call, Tina Q. Tan, MD, professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University, Chicago, and a member of the IDSA board of directors, said that easing social distancing requirements requires comprehensive data and that “one of the major missing data points” is the number of people who are currently infected or have been infected. She warned that easing restrictions too soon could have “disastrous consequences,” including an increase in spread of infection, hospitalization, and death rates, as well as overwhelming health care facilities.

“In order to reopen, we have to have the ability to safely, successfully, and rapidly diagnose and treat, as well as isolate, individuals with COVID-19, as well as track their contacts,” she said.

The implementation of more widespread, comprehensive testing would better enable targeting of resources, such as personal protective equipment, ICU beds, and ventilators, Dr. Tan said. “This is needed in order to ensure that, if there is an outbreak and it does occur again, the health care system and the first responders are ready for this,” she said.

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