Back in 2021, we were starting to get a grasp on the transmission mechanisms and statistics associated with Covid-19 and its associated variants. At the time, it was fairly shared understanding that one could be “in the clear” after a positive Covid test, for several months while immunity remained. In fact, a “meta-analysis of 15 cohort studies demonstrated that naturally acquired immunity following recovery from a SARS-CoV-2 infection was associated with an 87% reduced risk of reinfection for up to 1 year.”
That data, published on September 15th, 2021, came from the Lancet, with research out of Sweden – a country that may be as close as possible to the absolute case study in how to manage Covid.
Fast forward to today, that data isn’t quite holding up.
New research is showing that individuals who become infected with Covid – of any strain – are seemingly able to test positive for the same strain just months later – sometimes even weeks.
The CDC has upgraded its recommendations of Covid testing to symptomatic screening for the virus within 90 days of recovering from an initial infection – AKA – don’t assume you’re in the clear. While this news is obviously alarming and disappointing, it also calls into question some of our understanding of epidemiology and transmission of viruses. The mechanics we once understood as “truth” about the mutation of viruses no longer hold up.
While the scientific and public health community is no stranger to new evidence – or information that invalidates the frameworks by which we conduct research – we still have to solve our community’s health challenges. We still have to keep our students (and teachers) in school, our businesses open, and our lives going – even when we don’t fully understand how to define safety.
While it’s not a solution – the safety lies in testing. Accessible testing that is quick, accurate, and affordable. The ability to confirm one’s Covid status in the safety of their own home is crucial to riding out the current and future variants with which we are faced. It’s critical to keeping our families healthy, our communities open, and at this point, maintaining quality of life.
Innovating on our current testing methods is not just a need – it’s our responsibility as members of the scientific community. We have the information, and in this case, the lack thereof, to understand how important it is to get the answers that we can. Dual diagnostics – tests that can screen for multiple illnesses that share similar symptoms – become excessively critical as we see an uptick in flu and RSV. Our immune systems have been insulated across the board – and we are disproportionately vulnerable to all illness as the pandemic shifts to endemic.
In the U.S. alone, more than 1.6 million cases of reinfection have been reported across 24 states, and experts suspect that number is far higher due to state-specific mechanisms of diagnostics and reporting; not to mention folks that never report at all – or even test to begin with.
Accurate testing requires time off of work. It requires notifying anyone you may have exposed. It’s exhausting, it’s scary, it costs resources we don’t have time to part with, and as shallow as it sounds, it carries workplace, family, and social stigma. Making PCR-grade testing an at-home reality is the only way that we will make it through the end of the pandemic without losing more lives, and at the very minimum – losing more time.