The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health announced a new initiative on Wednesday to help determine whether frequent, widespread use of rapid coronavirus tests slows the spread of the virus.
The program will make rapid at-home antigen tests freely available to every resident of two communities, Pitt County, N.C., and Hamilton County, Tenn., enough for a total of 160,000 people to test themselves for the coronavirus three times a week for a month.
“This effort is precisely what I and others have been calling for nearly a year — widespread, accessible rapid tests to help curb transmission,” said Michael Mina, an epidemiologist at Harvard University who has been a vocal proponent of rapid, at-home testing programs.
He added, “Taking 30 seconds out of your day three times a week to perform the test is something any person can do.”
testing remains essential, public health experts say.
“We have all hypothesized that testing at home, at scale could stop the chain of transmission of the virus and allow communities to discover many more cases,” said Bruce Tromberg, who directs the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering and leads its rapid acceleration of diagnostics program, which is supplying the tests for the initiative. “All the mathematical models predict that. But this is a real world, real life example.”
Residents who decide to participate in the program can have the tests delivered to their homes or pick them up at local distribution sites. An online tool will guide participants through the testing process and help them interpret their results. Residents can also volunteer to complete surveys that will assess whether frequent testing has changed their behavior, knowledge about Covid-19, or opinions on vaccination.
Researchers at the University of North Carolina and Duke University will compare the test positivity, case and hospitalization rates in these two communities to those in other similar communities that are not participating in the program.