Posted: Monday, May 11, 2020. 1:47 pm CST.
By Aaron Humes: Opening his Friday press conference, Prime Minister Dean Barrow, while speaking at length about the possibility of reopening to foreign tourism, stated that Belize requires two things to potentially open our shores to visitors as early as July: a plateau of the rates of infection in North America and particularly the United States, and an effective treatment for combating COVID-19.
The Prime Minister then added: “What of course could allow us to hurdle both the barriers I have just referred to is the availability of an effective rapid test. That latter seems to be getting closer and closer, hence my own reason for feeling that we could be good to go possibly by as early as July. The ability to immediately test tourists on arrival should be open sesame. It is not a failsafe, but we clearly, as always, have to juggle saving lives with safeguarding the economy. A rapid test would permit us to let in all tourists that test negative upon arrival. The fact that one or two could nevertheless thereafter still contract the virus is, in my view, an acceptable risk. So it is that reliable rapid test that would be the best trigger for the much longed-for tourism reopening.”
But how soon can such tests be available? Elsewhere, we have told you of the development of a test by Taiwan that can give results in ten minutes.
In the U.S. according to Vox, there are two Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-authorized options to choose from for getting tested at home. On May 7, the FDA granted an emergency use authorization for at-home saliva collection for Covid-19 tests developed by a lab at Rutgers University. The lab, RUCDR Infinite Biologics, joins LabCorp’s Pixel at-home nasal swab test, which was authorized by the FDA on April 21. Both of these still require samples being sent to an authorized lab for testing.
Due in part to the FDA wanting to get as many tests as possible out there, Covid-19 tests have operated in a bit of a regulatory grey area, Vox reports. Some distributors have been allowed to market at-home saliva tests for weeks as long as they have been submitted for an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) and passed their own validation tests. No COVID-19 tests have been “approved” by the FDA, only authorized via the EUA, but that has not stopped companies from marketing their tests as “FDA-authorized,” “FDA-approved” or “FDA EUA-approved”. In fact, only the Rutgers test itself was authorized in mid-April, but the at-home saliva collection element of the process didn’t yet have the FDA’s authorization; now, it does.
As for tests that can be completely done at home — that is, you don’t need to send anything to a lab — there are none that are FDA-authorized. Experts have told CNBC that rapid at-home COVID-19 tests are possible but probably months away from becoming a reality. You can buy at-home rapid antibody tests in other countries, some of which have been approved by those countries’ respective FDA equivalents, but the reliability of these tests is very much in question.
Here in Belize, Director of Health Services Dr. Marvin Manzanero said on the April 8 webcast of “Ask the Experts,” while discussing the rejection of test kits from South Korea: “…I knowof the things that everybody is requesting is they want to be tested for SARS COVID 2 but it hardly works like that yet. We are not at the stage where we are just going to be swabbing everybody. We had said that maybe in the next 4 to 6 weeks is when we can have access to rapid test and make that available to people much more routinely.”
With Belize nearing 28 days without a positive test, expect this week to hear of what happens moving forward including rapid testing.
For now, note that according to the World Health Organization (WHO), the most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, tiredness, and dry cough, with some patients experiencing aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat, or diarrhea. These symptoms are typically mild with gradual onset but in some patients, this may escalate into more severe symptoms like high fever, shortness of breath, and severe cough.
Emergency warning signs that would require immediate medical attention include, but are not limited to: trouble breathing; persistent pain or pressure in the chest; new confusion or inability to arouse; and bluish lips or face.
Since test availability is still limited, not everyone can be tested and criteria may vary between states and local health departments.
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