Forty Percent Of All COVID Tests In The US Are ‘Useless,’ Says Harvard Scientist

A woman administers a coronavirus test.
Joe Raedle / Getty Images

Ashish Jha, professor of global health at Harvard University, has warned that around 40 percent of tests for the novel coronavirus in the United States are “useless” in stopping the virus’s spread.

According to CNBC, the main reason behind the warning is the time involved in getting test results. Health experts have claimed that they should be returned as soon as possible — with an optimal frame of 48 hours or fewer. However, 40 percent of tests take longer than three days, making it nearly impossible to contact trace in addition to making it difficult for test-takers to properly quarantine without an official diagnosis.

“It’s really clear that if tests take more than 48 hours, you’ve lost the window for contact tracing,” Dr. Jha explained.

“I think, basically, beyond 72… the test is close to useless.”

The statements were echoed by Shannon Mayer, a 31-year-old Chicagoan who had gotten a test earlier this summer after experiencing difficulty breathing. Though she had the test taken on July 1, she did not receive results until more than three weeks later on July 24. The results ended up being negative.

“The whole purpose is to find out if I have it before it’s over,” Mayer said.

“So that just completely defeated the purpose.”

An investigation into the matter found that test times tended to vary state by state. For example, Massachusetts and North Dakota both boast effective turnarounds, averaging a little more than 48 hours. However, other states were not as efficient. Arizona and West Virginia had an average turnaround of four and a half days, and Indiana ranked worst in the nation with an average of more than five days.

Labs have also been hit by delays in returning results. For example, Quest Diagnostics admitted that their return window for non-priority patients had been more than a week during mid-July. The company has since said that after increasing capacity, diagnoses take around two to three days.

Dr. Jacqueline Delmont, Chief Medical Officer of SOMOS Community Care, takes blood from a person for a COVID-19 antibody test in a medical tent at a testing site locate at the Miami Lakes Youth Center on July 22, 2020 in Miami Lakes, Florida. Testing is being provided by doctors from New York City associated with SOMOS Community Care, as the state of Florida experiences a surge in coronavirus cases.
  Joe Raedle / Getty Images

However, the timeframe could also be shorter because fewer people are currently getting tested. Dr. Jha has warned that this could only worsen the pandemic, as it obscures medical experts’ knowledge of the virus’s spread.

“It makes examining case declines much harder to interpret,” he said.

“If cases are down by 30 percent but testing is down by 30 percent, what’s happening with cases? Is it more, is it less, is it about the same? And we’re all doing guesswork,” he concluded.

Meanwhile, in other COVID-19 related news, the CDC has warned that the pandemic is causing a severe spike in mental health issues, as was recently reported by The Inquisitr.

The coronavirus has currently infected around 5.4 million people in the U.S. and claimed around 170,000 lives in the country.