NIMH » Why Testing is the Key to Getting Back to Normal

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Illustration featuring medical workers in masks standing in front of a diverse group of people.
Written in collaboration with the leadership of the NIH, this piece represents a unified effort to meet the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic with excellence and innovation.

We know one thing for sure: every single person can help our country control the COVID-19 pandemic. From wearing a mask to washing hands, maintaining physical distance and avoiding large indoor gatherings, each of us can follow public health best practices that not only reduce the likelihood of contracting SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes coronavirus disease) or COVID-19), but also prevent the spread of COVID-19 to our employees, friends and loved ones. Another thing that will help is to test as many people as possible.

Testing for COVID-19 is so important that the NIH launched the RADx (Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics) initiative in April 2020 Develop fast, user-friendly and accurate tests and make them available nationwide. As part of this effort, the RADx-UP (RADx Underserved Populations) program was implemented The aim is to find solutions to stop the spread of COVID-19, especially among racial and ethnic minorities as well as other vulnerable population groups that are disproportionately affected by this pandemic. We previously reported on the start of this project and our plans to develop community-based approaches to investigate how best to implement testing and prevention strategies for populations disproportionately affected by COVID-19, those who have the highest rates of infection, or who are most at risk of complications or poor results .

Scientists from the NIH and across the country are working around the clock to develop programs that ensure access to and acceptance of fast, reliable tests across the country. Tests can help people determine whether they are infected with SARS-CoV-2 – whether or not they have symptoms – and whether they are at risk of passing the infection on to others. Measures to prevent the spread of infection are the most effective strategy in getting us back to work and school safely.

We would like to take this opportunity to articulate why comprehensive testing is necessary, important and achievable.

  1. 1. Testing saves lives

    Testing everyone for SARS-CoV-2, including those without symptoms who have symptoms of infection such as difficulty breathing, fever, sore throat, or loss of sense of smell and taste who may have been exposed to the SARS-CoV-2 virus will help prevent the Prevent the spread of COVID-19 by identifying people in need of care in good time. A positive test at the onset of the disease allows the individual to self-isolate. This will make them less likely to infect others and allow them to seek treatment sooner. This likely reduces the severity of the condition and the risk of long-term disability or death.

    Testing people who have come into contact with others who have documented infection is also important. A negative test doesn’t mean you know. They could become contagious later. Even if you test negative, you need to continue to protect yourself and others by washing your hands frequently, distancing yourself, and wearing a face mask. A positive test indicates that you need to isolate yourself and that other people with whom you have been in contact since the time you were exposed should also be tested.

    Since it is known that almost half of all SARS-CoV-2 infections are transmitted by people who show no symptoms, identifying infected people who are presymptomatic as well as people who are asymptomatic plays an important role in ending it the infection pandemic.

  2. 2. Testing can be quick and easy

    The only test available initially required taking a sample from a person’s throat. New developments, some of which are supported by two other NIH projects, RADx Tech and RADx-ATP (Advanced Technology Platforms)offers more convenient and accurate tests that take the sample from inside the nose. For large-scale use, tests are on the horizon that use a simple mouth swab or saliva sample.

    A positive test for SARS-CoV-2 indicates a person that they have the infection. Not only can you be treated faster, but you can also take steps to minimize the spread of the virus.

    This is why it’s so important to get test results quickly, ideally within a few hours or less.

    At the beginning of the pandemic, there was insufficient capacity and limited supplies to collect and process the tests, causing delays. However, laboratory equipment has improved, capacity and supply have expanded, and results are returned on average within 3-4 days. Indeed, point-of-care tests will be available that give a result in less than 15 minutes!

  3. 3. Testing is more important in the hardest hit communities

    Color communities are disproportionately burdened by the COVID-19 pandemic. Some people in these communities are key workers unable to work from home, which increases their risk of exposure to the virus. In addition, the virus can spread more quickly in cross-generational life situations or in apartment buildings if a household member is infected. Comorbid conditions that exacerbate the health risks of COVID-19, such as heart disease, obesity, and diabetes, are also more common in minority communities due to long-standing social and environmental factors and obstacles to access to health care. Therefore, COVID-19 can spread rapidly in these communities, and the impact of this spread is great. Testing, particularly on asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic individuals, is key to stopping this spread.

Unfortunately, there is still a lot of confusion about where to take a test and who to test. It becomes clear that in order to test positive a person must have a significant amount of the virus in their system. This means that If you don’t have symptoms but think or have experienced that you have been in contact with someone with COVID-19You should isolate yourself immediately, call your doctor, and then get tested. Always ask your doctor or local health department if you have any questions. You can also contact the CDC hotline at 800-CDC-INFO (800-232-4636).

Staying informed is important. We encourage you to look for up-to-date, trusted sources of information about COVID-19, such as: For example, refer to resources on the NIH website or MedlinePlus, the National Library of Medicine consumer information resource.

Over the next few months, you have options such as those listed at the NIH vaccine trial sitesto help scientists find out if the vaccines currently being evaluated are effective. If you develop COVID-19, you can participate in ongoing clinical trials to develop and evaluate a wide range of potential treatmentsas well as several possible vaccines. In order for these therapies to work for everyone, it is important that people from different communities across the country take part in this research. We hope that in the not-too-distant future these efforts will lead to therapies that end the pandemic.

In the meantime, we continue to protect ourselves and others from infections and get tested if you think you’ve been in contact with someone with COVID-19.

Top row (from left to right):
Diana W. Bianchi, M.D., Director, Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute for Child Health and Human Development
Patricia Flatley Brennan, R.N., Ph.D., Director of the National Library of Medicine
Gary H. Gibbons, M.D., Director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
Joshua Gordon, M.D., Ph.D., Director, National Institute for Mental Health

Middle row (from left to right):
Richard J. Hodes, M.D., Director, National Institute on Aging
Jon R. Lorsch, Ph.D., Director of the National Institute of General Medicine
George A. Mensah, M.D., Section Director, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
Eliseo J. Pérez-Stable, M.D., Director, National Institute on Minority Health and Health Differences

Bottom row (from left to right):
William Riley, Ph.D., Director, NIH Office of Behavioral and Social Science Research
Tara A. Schwetz, Ph.D., Deputy Deputy Director, National Health Institutes and Acting Director, National Institute for Nursing Research
Nora D. Volkow, M. D., Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse



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