Pandemic would have been worse without self-screening tests, analysis concludes

By The Canadian Press

The COVID-19 pandemic would have been worse without the availability of self-screening tests during the crisis, concludes an analysis by a researcher at McGill University.

The rapid tests were effective in identifying individuals who were at two ends of the illness: those who were not sick and those more contagious.

This helped to stop the transmission of the virus and limit the scale of the crisis.

“If they hadn’t been available and if people hadn’t used them, I think we would have had a lot more closures and lockdowns,” said McGill University researcher and author Dr. Nitika Pant Pai.

Pai says that even though the tests seemed harmless, they were a tool towards fighting against the pandemic.

“Without testing, schools would not have been able to operate, and workplaces would have closed more often.”

The study compiles a systematic review and meta-analysis of 70 studies – with data from 25 countries – that assessed the diagnostic accuracy of rapid tests for COVID-19.

Researchers found that they were very effective in identifying healthy and symptomatic individuals but they were less reliable at detecting asymptomatic infected people.

They also found discovered that the population shows a strong preference for self-screening tests, but the interest for daily or repeated testing is low.

According to Pai, rapid testing reduced the number of school closures, minimized the number of missed workdays, slowed transmission between healthcare workers and allowed the continuation of social activities with a lower risk of infection.

The research showcased that advance training sessions, detailed instructions on self-testing in everyday language, and test kits specifically designed for low-literacy and elderly populations could improve test performance and daily usage.

Dr. Pant Pai says these findings provided lessons for the future.

“Public health agencies and governments should not hesitate to invest in accurate, rapid, portable and perhaps digitally enhanced self-testing strategies, such as apps, websites and video instructions, not only for respiratory viruses, but also for non-respiratory pathogens.”

She further explained that history only repeats itself and that the likelihood of another respiratory pandemic is high.

“Everyone seems to be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder because of the pandemic and we are not interested in understanding the lessons we should learn. But if we don’t learn the right lessons, we will start from scratch.”

This report by La Presse Canadienne was translated by CityNews.

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