I’ve been saying this for about a week, and so is Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Not everyone needs a COVID-19 test. In this overview I wrote over a week ago, I said that it would be nice if everyone could get a test but supplies weren’t readily available. But it soon became apparent to me that even if tests were available now, it was a moot point to get a test. Testing early on could have been crucial to avoiding a shutdown of the country by quarantining individuals, but that time has passed. At this point in the outbreak, testing makes sense only in certain circumstances, which I’ll go over below.
Why you probably don’t need the COVID-19 test
The CDC recommends that people on the front line potentially treating COVID-19 patients get tested. Those are the healthcare workers and other first responders. Patients in the hospital that are suspected of COVID-19 who would benefit from a proper diagnosis so they could get appropriate treatment should also be tested. And finally those that are having symptoms at home and have underlying medical conditions like heart disease and diabetes should get tested. But other than that, maybe you don’t need a COVID-19 test. And here’s why.
Most of the country is at home now. Even if your state does not have a shelter-in-place designation, very few are at work. Most are working from home. We know the best way to reduce the spread is to avoid large crowds. Social distance of 6 feet when out exercising. Self quarantine if you have fever, chills, coughing and sneezing. So why would a test make any difference? You’re already doing, or at least supposed to be doing everything you can to reduce spread. Knowing whether you’re positive or negative is a moot point if you’re avoiding other people. Again, if you fit into one of the categories about that should be tested, then that’s obviously a different situation.
More COVID-19 testing means more positives tests!
The other problem with everyone going out and getting a test is that it results in more positive tests! I’m not suggesting we bury our heads in the sand and act like everything is great if the number of positive tests remains low. But at this point, it only serves to make everyone more anxious.
Think about it. If you see the number of people testing positive skyrocketing, you’re going to think it’s spreading faster and faster and we’re all doomed. But really, that increasing number only means the people who already had it are now, just proven to have it. It doesn’t necessarily mean the disease is spreading like wildfire.
Increasing hospital admissions on the other hand, that’s a legitimate concern. Because that shows the people who were already infected, whether they tested positive previously or not, are so sick that they have to be admitted. And overwhelming the healthcare system is the true concern… not whether a mildly, self-quarantined individual tests positive.