“The U.S. will likely need very large numbers of all types of Covid-19 tests well into 2021 to contain outbreaks while returning toward normal activity, with a particular need for more screening tests that have very fast turnaround times,” the report reads.
Public health experts across the country have for months said testing will play a critical role in helping to reel in the pandemic. Getting enough people tested — and getting their results back quickly — will aid contact tracers in tracking down Americans exposed to the virus and help control outbreaks.
Fewer than 30 million tests are currently reported monthly in the country, the report says. As the virus ran unabated across American communities over the summer, some officials said contact tracing was nearly impossible with the lack of testing capacity and the uncontrolled spread.
Adm. Brett Giroir, the testing lead for the White House Coronavirus Task Force, has said repeatedly the US cannot test its way out of the pandemic.
Echoing other officials’ claims, the report from the team of experts says more testing is vital.
“At present infection rates, a basic screening strategy will require approximately 200 million tests each month for students and staff at the nation’s primary and secondary schools and residents and staff at nursing homes for them to open safely and in stages,” the team wrote.
But things could turn around. Testing capacity is improving and companies are working to develop fast and cheap on-the-spot tests that — if distributed widely enough — could make a difference, the report says.
“By October 2020, based on recent and announced expected market entry, point-of-care tests will rise to at least 70 million tests per month,” the team wrote.
By January, the US could reach nearly 200 million tests monthly. And more growth is possible, the experts said.
So far, more than 6.3 million cases have been reported across the US and more than 189,000 people have died, according to Johns Hopkins University.
‘We will end this crisis’
Both US leaders and Americans throughout the country for months have pushed for a return to normalcy. But experts have said ignoring the necessary safety guidelines and protocols will only further the crisis.
In a hopeful message this week, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert said the US will eventually get on top of the pandemic.
“There will be an end to this,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said at an event sponsored by Research! America. “When people know there’s an end in sight, they can hang on a bit longer.”
Fauci acknowledged the pandemic fatigue many are facing, exhausted of the lingering measures in place to protect against the virus, but said now is not the time to let up.
“It’s when they throw their hands up in exasperation and say, ‘This is never going to end, so to heck with it. Why don’t we just get on with our lives and do what we want to do?’ That can be a very dangerous conclusion to arrive at, because it leads to carelessness, and even more infections and the propagation of the pandemic.”
One major coronavirus vaccine trial hits pause
Meanwhile, AstraZeneca said Tuesday it has paused trials
of its Covid-19 vaccine, one of three that are in the final phase of trials in the US, because of an unexplained illness in one of the participants.
The company said the volunteer affected is in Britain, but its trials worldwide would be but put on hold. But this doesn’t mean an end to the trial
For one, the stop may be temporary and the illness may not have been caused by the vaccine. The company is making sure before it goes ahead with more testing.
“This is a routine action which has to happen whenever there is a potentially unexplained illness in one of the trials, while it is investigated, ensuring we maintain the integrity of the trials,” the company said in a statement.
“In large trials, illnesses will happen by chance but must be independently reviewed to check this carefully,” the company said.
The company didn’t give details on the illness.
AstraZeneca had just announced the start of its Phase 3 testing
in the US last week.
Two other Phase 3 vaccine trials
There are two other vaccine candidates in Phase 3 trials, one developed by Moderna, another by Pfizer and its German partner, BioNTech. All three have US government funding and backing.
The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine could have its candidate ready for regulatory approval by mid-October, Ugur Sahin, CEO and co-founder of BioNTech, said in an exclusive interview
“It has an excellent profile and I consider this vaccine … near perfect, and which has a near perfect profile,” Sahin said.
Pfizer and BioNTech say they plan to provide 100 million doses of their vaccine candidate, BNT162, by the end of the year, and up to 1.3 billion doses in 2021.
Moderna’s Phase 3 trial started more than a month ago, on July 27. The US government has a deal with Moderna
for the company to deliver 100 million doses once the vaccine is approved.
AstraZeneca’s pause on trials could give the public more confidence that companies are sticking to the safety first rule, despite the push from President Trump to get a vaccine out more quickly.
Nine companies, including AstraZeneca, signed a pledge on Tuesday promising
they wouldn’t seek premature approval for a vaccine, and that they would wait until they had the data needed to show it worked safely.