Scientists Warn COVID-19 Tests Are Too ‘Sensitive’ And Could Make The Pandemic Worse

A doctor holds a Covid-19 test.
Andreas Rentz / Getty Images

A number of scientists are claiming that current tests for the novel coronavirus are too “sensitive” and giving a skewed view of the virus and its spread.

According to The New York Times, many of the leading medical experts in the United States believe that a large number of those infected are carrying “relatively insignificant” amounts of the virus. Such low levels of coronavirus would make them unable to transmit the disease. Despite this, they are nevertheless showing up as positive in current COVID-19 tests.

“We’ve been using one type of data for everything, and that is just plus or minus — that’s all,” explained Dr. Michael Mina, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “We’re using that for clinical diagnostics, for public health, for policy decision-making.”

The medical professor added that new tests should focus on the amount of virus in the body, compared to just whether or not it is present.

“It’s really irresponsible, I think, to forgo the recognition that this is a quantitative issue,” he said.

The doctor suggested a new test that focused on the number of “cycles” of COVID in the body that could determine its viral load — and accordingly, its contagiousness.

Already, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said that it is looking into the use of cycle threshold measures “for policy decisions.”

 A healthcare worker holds up a test kit at a drive-in coronavirus (COVID-19) testing center at M.T.O. Shahmaghsoudi School of Islamic Sufism.
  Mario Tama / Getty Images

That said, the overly sensitive tests are not just an issue for analysts who need to get an idea of the disease’s spread. It is also an issue for the public at large, as health experts have warned that the binary tests could be making the pandemic worse.

The reason for this is due to the contact tracing. Those who have been in proximity with someone who is infected often get tested themselves, resulting in “bottlenecks” for tests. In turn, this makes it more difficult for officials to find and test those who may actually be contagious.

That said, Mina added that the solution to the problem did not center on fewer tests — despite recent recommendations from the CDC that stated asymptomatic individuals did not require testing.

“The decision not to test asymptomatic people is just really backward,” Mina added.

“In fact, we should be ramping up testing of all different people,” he said. “But we have to do it through whole different mechanisms.”

COVID-19 has infected 25 million people worldwide, with over 183,000 cases in the United States alone. As the quest for a vaccine continues, some scientists have cheered the discovery that a chemical used in insect repellents can kill the coronavirus, as was previously reported by The Inquisitr.