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What two US counties will tell us about COVID-19

A rapid-testing program will be rolled out across two communities to ask whether widespread at-home tests are effective at curbing community spread. The ‘Say Yes! COVID Test’ initiative will enroll up to 160,000 volunteers in Tennessee and North Carolina, who will self-administer three rapid, at-home tests a week. The testing program, launched by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), aims to understand whether frequent tests can reduce viral transmission during this and future pandemics. NIH Director Francis S. Collins says “this is the first initiative of this scale to make free, rapid, self-administered tests available community-wide” to determine such tests’ effectiveness. The test is the QuickVue test from Quidel, an at-home diagnostic that detects SARS-CoV-2 antigen and provides a result in ten minutes from a nasal swab. The test received Emergency Use Authorization on 1 March 2021 and is supplied through Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADx), an NIH program set up to fund innovative COVID-19 testing technologies. Antigen tests such as QuickVue are less sensitive than PCR, which is the gold standard for diagnosing COVID-19. If used frequently, however, such at-home tests could rapidly identify people who are asymptomatic but still infectious, encouraging them to self-isolate. Such scaled-up testing could potentially stop viral spread, but data to show this is the case has not been forthcoming. “All the mathematical models predict that. But this is a real-world, real-life example,” said Bruce Tromberg, director of the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, in The New York Times. Tromberg is leader of the RADx Tech program.

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What two US counties will tell us about COVID-19. Nat Biotechnol 39, 533 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41587-021-00931-6

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