Recently, public health officials confirmed that coronavirus variants originating from the UK would dominate across the US by March. Soon after, laboratories studying coronavirus confirmed that covid-19 tests could detect new strains.
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Coronavirus variants detected through old test facilities
LabCorp and Quest Diagnostics are two major test processing units in the US. Both of them individually reported that there are no inaccuracies in their testing data. Thus, regular tests can detect the UK variant, and no false reports show negative results for someone positive with the virus.
A US healthcare company named Abbott provided rapid test facilities to detect coronavirus. Their product BinaxNOW is working as much for the coronavirus variants as it did for the original.
Dr. Mary Rodgers, the leading scientist and head of infectious disease research from Abbott, confirmed about continuous tracking of new variants. She also said that they have gone through several samples to prove no reason to worry about the Abbott tests.
The clarity from Abbott gives hope to the people amid reports that confirm the spread of mutated viruses. Currently, variants are originating from the UK, Brazil, and South Africa. The US is on high alert as the strains are supposedly going to spread and there were speculations of the rapid tests not working.
FDA warned public health department
In January, FDA sent out a notice to healthcare professionals warning them about the possibility of new coronavirus strains spreading. The immediate notification made public health departments worry about the accuracy of results the tests could provide. Moreover, the letter mentioned the chances of false reports from PCR tests. According to FDA, the chances of detecting mutated virus of SARS-CoV-2 could have been less possible.
The health experts agreed that worrisome speculation from the federal government is practical. This, in turn, compelled testing companies to evaluate whether the old testing formulas can detect the new variants or not.
After going through several tests, Abbott confirmed that there is a high possibility of getting accurate results. They also said that their testing facility is robust and will detect mutations that will happen over time.
The type of test can determine accuracy
It is important to note that the type of test will matter to detect different types of strains. Medical professionals agree that several tests can detect different variants of the virus, but it is not the same for antibody tests. The type of tests will determine if one person is infected already, whereas antibody tests determine if they were infected in the past.
The antibody tests cannot determine or differentiate between the coronavirus strains at this stage, says Dr. Jessica Justman. She is an associate professor in epidemiology medicine from Columbia Mailman School of Public Health. She added that one could not go through an antibody test to determine if they have the antibodies against the new COVID-19 variants. Thus, this part needs studies, research, and development.
Biden administration on high alert for new variants
The continuous spread of coronavirus strains keeps the Biden administration officials on alert. They prioritize the federal government’s approach on what they have to say or suggest about the pandemic.
One of the most significant concerns is that the virus is mutating. Moreover, the new variants spread faster and cause more danger. The US officials say that they have to prevent the aggressive spread of the virus. However, the public health system has not been able to keep up with the same.
CDC Director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, spoke during the White House COVID-19 briefing recently. The expert said that by the time someone has symptoms, goes through tests, turns out positive, the possibility of preventing the spread is already over. It expands the process of contact tracing and quarantining. Further, the Director suggests that every case is like a new variant at this time of the pandemic.
The Biden government announced to go into a $230 million-dollar agreement with Ellume. It is a digital diagnostics organization from Australia that will provide 8.5 million OTC tests. Anyone can buy these tests and do them at home.
Ellume will produce 100,00 testing kits every month till July and target to produce 19 million by the end of 2021. Ellume tests don’t need to go through lab tests but work like at-home pregnancy kits. However, the test will be under scrutiny to detect new variants and to prevent spread.
Dr. Wilbur Lam, the associate professor from the Department of Pediatrics at Emory University, said that there can always be errors in such cases. Thus, healthcare policymakers must consider such possibilities to confirm if confirmatory tests are needed or go forward with a use-case scenario.