What role will Mass Testing play in preventing future waves of COVID-19?
Testing, tracing, and isolating are a core part of the UK’s toolkit in the fight against COVID-19 and they are likely to remain so until — and even after — the majority of the UK population is vaccinated. Around 1 in 3 people who have COVID-19 are asymptomatic, meaning they display no symptoms of the virus, therefore may unknowingly pass the virus on. We believe that using rapid lateral flow tests to regularly test the population and identify these asymptomatic cases, thus breaking chains of transmission, is essential to reopening society safely. Meanwhile utilising PCR tests as the ‘gold standard’ for Covid-19 testing.
What is a rapid lateral flow test?
Rapid lateral flow tests are a fast and simple way to test people who aren’t presenting the typical COVID-19 symptoms but could unknowingly be carrying the virus. Both PCR tests and lateral flow tests have their place in COVID-19 testing and will play their part in reopening society. Unlike PCR tests, lateral flow tests don’t require laboratory processing so are suitable for situations where quick results are required — typically providing a result in around 30 minutes. In addition, their lower price point, means lateral flow tests are well suited to large scale, mass testing.
So, why aren’t we just using lateral flow tests? While lateral flow tests definitely have a large role to play in getting us back to the things we love, they have a lower sensitivity rate than PCR tests, meaning they give more false positives. The sensitivity rate of a test is its ability to correctly identify patients with the disease, a true positive, while the specificity rate is its ability to correctly identify patients without the disease, a true negative. PCR tests are considered the gold standard of COVID-19 testing and have a high sensitivity and specificity rate, meaning they are very unlikely to provide a false result. Therefore PCR tests will always be the best form of test for someone who has symptoms and wants to know if they have COVID-19.
Due to their lower sensitivity rate but high specificity rare, lateral flow tests are ideal for identifying when someone does not have COVID-19. This is explained further by Sander Brus, co-founder and CEO of PrevViral.
‘The lower sensitivity rate means a rapid test will give a positive result to fewer people than a PCR test. However, rapid tests specificity rate is extremely high, meaning they will give very few to no false positives, regularly being > 99% accurate. This combination means that rapid tests will identify those who are contagious and not identify those who may have previously had COVID-19 but are no longer contagious.’
As lateral flow tests have a lower sensitivity rate, it is often recommended that anyone with a positive lateral flow test has a PCR test to confirm that the result isn’t a false positive. However, the high specificity rate means the chance of a false negative is extremely low.
The impact of lateral flow tests so far
Lateral flow tests have been a key part of the recent reopening of schools in England. Voluntary testing is being carried out for pupils in secondary school and above and for all staff, households and support bubbles of those at school, nursery and college. Regular testing of these groups, as well as additional social distancing measures, helps to ensure that chains of transmission are broken.
While the introduction of regular testing is extremely important to clamp down on the spread of COVID-19, it creates a vast amount of administrative work for schools. We believe this is where technology can have a huge impact. Solutions such as tested.me reduce the administrative burden that regular testing creates. Our dashboard provides valuable real-time data and insights into the verified health status of staff, including when their last COVID-19 test was and the result. This, in turn, reduces the amount of time spent sharing, processing and analysing test results and their impacts.
“Using tested.Me to log staff Lateral Flow Test results has given us an easy and accessible way to monitor and keep track of the information. Being user friendly has allowed the staff to use the system with ease. It has reduced the amount of time we spend checking the COVID-19 test results of our staff. The solution has meant we no longer have to manually check the results of each staff member and has freed up time to be spent in more effective ways.” Tahseen Aslam, Lion Trust Academy.
How will Lateral Flow Tests fit into the future?
As more sectors of society reopen, lateral flow tests will likely become a regular part of our routines to prove we don’t currently have COVID-19. The majority of workplaces have been closed for almost a year and many employees will be anxious about returning to work and being surrounded by so many other people. Testing will be essential to build the workforce’s confidence to return to the workplace, proving that other people in the office haven’t got COVID-19.
Managers are already considering how to bring employees back to the workplace. A recent Chartered Management Institute survey revealed that three-fifths of managers have decided to make testing available to their employees when they return to the office, with a fifth saying testing will be mandatory in order to return.
Ann Francke, CMI chief executive, said: “Managers have shown a significant level of support for mass testing and vaccinations. And widespread take-up would allow for a swift and safe return to work.”
In order for regular mass testing programmes to be effective, the majority of people have to participate in them. The idea of working as a community to prevent the spread of COVID-19 will not stop once restrictions are eased; if anything it becomes more important. Participating in regular testing provides reassurance to those around you that you are COVID-19 negative. This builds confidence over time, keeping colleagues and friends safe and offices open. We believe this alongside the continued role out of the COVID-19 vaccination and the use of PCR test to confirm whether people with symptoms have COVID-19 will enable us to return to the workplace safely.
The foundations of tested.me have been built on an individual having ownership of their data and choosing when and who they share their data with. Therefore we believe that people should be able to choose whether they share their health information with another individual or a business. However, workplaces and businesses are equally entitled to set conditions for entry into their premises such as verified proof of a negative test or a vaccination. Individuals will then be able to make an informed choice about whether they wish to share their information in order to gain access to the premises. Using technology, such as tested.me, makes it simple for people who wish to share their data to do so — sharing only they agree to and having a digital record of what they have shared.
We have been helping companies such as 2 Circles Communications manage their employee testing for employees who have needed to come into the office, as well as providing valuable insights into the health of their entire workforce.
‘Tested.me is exceptionally useful in helping make sure everyone does their test as they come on site. Without it, there would be an awful lot of information to keep track of.’ Wendy Beazley, Head of Human Resources at 2 Circles Communications.
Currently in England, a business can join the government workplace testing programme, allowing employers to test their employees and prevent the spread of Covid-19 within the workplace. The UK government suggests a system in which companies allow staff and customers to choose to demonstrate proof of either a Covid-19 vaccination or a recent test could be implemented. By using the tested.me app employees and customers can choose what health information they wish to securely share with registered businesses and other individuals.
With lockdown restrictions gradually easing we all need to play our part in protecting each other and preventing the spread of Covid-19. You can book a demo to see our solution or to find out more about tested.me visit our website.