Auburn Virologist: Determining Actual COVID-19 Rates Requires Sensitive Screening Procedure

| July 12, 2020 @ 6:00 pm

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By Joseph Giambrone
Auburn University

It is axiomatic that decisions relating to opening up the economy, relaxing mitigations in the current COVID-19 era, and assessing the effectiveness of preventive measures should be based on real-time evaluation of the incidence rate of the infection. By definition, incidence is the number of new cases in a population identified within a specific time period.

Questions have arisen as to the sensitivity and specificity of some new rapid tests approved by the FDA under an emergency use authorization. Most kits rely on immuno-based technology to detect viral protein (antigens) produced by the RdRp and N-genes from SARS-CoV-2 virus, responsible for COVID-19. However, these two genes are conserved in all coronaviruses and may detect viral proteins from coronaviruses, which can cause the common cold. In addition, the presence of these viral proteins may not indicate that the virus is still alive and, therefore, a positive test does not indicate the person is still spreading the live virus.

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