‘It’s going to be a project’: Looking at unconventional efforts to ramp up our coronavirus testing ability

coronavirus test kit ew p cec a ea c a aab c eecde fit w
Credit: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg

Right now, [coronavirus] gene tests—the most accurate kind—are run only in labs or on special hospital instruments. But [biotech entrepreneur Jonathan] Rothberg’s is one of several attempts to create a test that’s simple, foolproof, and cheap enough for anyone to do at home.

About half the globe’s population is under stay-at-home orders to stall the spread of the coronavirus. The next step, ending social isolation and restarting economies, depends on monitoring and tracking the virus. And for that, we may need massive testing.

Exactly how much testing is that? Commercial labs and health departments are now testing around 140,000 people a day in the US, according to the COVID Tracking Project, and they can still enlarge their operations. But under a get-back-to-work plan we will need to go much, much bigger. While there isn’t a consensus on how big, some forecasts say we should be testing millions of people every day to catch the new infections.

Related article:  Podcast: Coronavirus 'antidote' from recovered patient blood? Did the virus escape from a lab? Anti-science activism causes needless harm

So how soon will it be ready? [Rothberg has] challenged his team to have 10,000 prototype kits made next month, along with an accompanying phone app. “This is like conquering smallpox,” he says. “It’s going to be a project.”

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