It’s been a long year for all of us, working either remotely at home or in the office using new safety protocols for the Covid-19 pandemic, adjusting to different work requirements and personal protective gear, and making sure that our actions aren’t helping the spread of the virus. For many people, reducing the spread of Covid-19 has included periodic testing, making sure to have a test after being in proximity to someone who contracted the virus, or having a test as a precautionary measure before starting a new job, going to school, or even seeing loved ones again.
Luckily, there’s great news about a vaccine for this novel disease. Several major pharmaceutical companies have developed a vaccine with an over 90% success rate, and doses are being administered at a rapid clip. This will help reduce new cases quite a bit! However, testing for Covid-19, and its variants, will remain an important part of maintaining public health.
Why is Covid-19 Testing So Critical?
Easy-to-administer tests and quick results can significantly slow the spread of covid, by allowing those who test positive to follow through with contact tracing while their past travels and recollection people they’ve been in contact with are still fresh. It’s also important for those who work on the front lines with the public, from healthcare to education to your local grocery store. Regular testing of essential workers gives the public peace of mind, knowing that they’ll be safe when visiting the doctor, picking up bread and milk, or taking their kids to school.
Plus, rapid, easily accessible testing helps reduce the chances of mass outbreaks, as patients can be quickly identified, and then self-quarantine. Covid testing has dropped off as more and more people are getting vaccinated. Now, most people are only getting tested if they note the signs and symptoms of a respiratory infection, including coughing and congestion, headache and fatigue, and the lack of taste and smell, hallmarks of the coronavirus.
How Does Covid Testing Work?
Normally, a virus or other type of contagion isn’t so widespread that people feel like they might as well not test. Unfortunately, with so many people in danger of being exposed or having complications, this may not be feasible. However, now that vaccines are available, and with a controlled virus, testing can go back to the normal way of administering it, versus testing more often.
Most testing is done using a nasal swab, removing a small amount of the mucus in your nose, and testing for the presence of the covid virus. The results can come back in as little as 24 hours or take a few days, depending on how busy the testing center is. For rapid antigen testing, the results can be had in about 15 minutes, which can give immense peace of mind to people.
There are also at-home kits, available to order online and complete yourself, without leaving the house. The results are mailed to a lab, and then you’re given a unique code to retrieve them. However, testing of all sorts is dropping off now that more people are receiving the vaccine, says the CEO of GoGetTested.com. Regardless of which kind of test you complete, you should self-quarantine in your home until you receive a negative result. For positive results, follow the instructions of your doctor, and make sure to reduce your interactions with others, even your family members.
Identifying the Different Covid Variants
It’s uncertain now whether people who have relieved the Covid-19 vaccine can still pass the virus along to others, as asymptomatic carriers. This, plus the emergence of mutations of the virus, has made many people nervous about foregoing the regular testing and dropping personal protection protocols, such as social distancing and wearing masks (it’s always important to wash your hands regularly though!).
Viruses mutate, and the coronavirus has already produced several new strains which, while they have the same result and type of infection, aren’t responsive to the Covid-19 vaccination. Some health experts speculate that over time, coronavirus vaccines will be like flu vaccines – a new one each year, that responds to the ever-changing nature of these types of viruses.
The first new variant was identified in the latter part of 2020. Viruses, specifically RNA ones like the coronavirus, will evolve over time and can have geologically separate strains as they mutate. In fact, some of the “flatten the curve” restrictions at the beginning of 2020 may have sped up the mutation process, as travel was drastically reduced and many people were staying very close to home. These mutated strains may not be as responsive to vaccination for the parent strain, or may not respond to a vaccine created for a different strain.
Now, there are multiple variants of the SARS-CoV-2. Many of these seem to have the same kind of pattern of likeness – that is, some people have no symptoms, while many others have a mild case of illness. However, people who have has the original coronavirus may still be susceptible to contracting a mutated version.
According to Stuart Ray, M.D., vice chair of medicine for data integrity and analytics, at Johns Hopkins, “There is new evidence from laboratory studies that some immune responses driven by current vaccines could be less effective against some of the new strains. The immune response involves many components, and a reduction in one does not mean that the vaccines will not offer protection.”
We’re Still In This Together
If the global pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that public health is a concern for all of us – not just a few. Responsible protection to keep from spreading coronavirus and its variants, plus regular testing and having the proper vaccinations, can help reduce the occurrence of respiratory diseases and protect those in our population who are the most vulnerable to complications. You can make a difference in your community by supporting all health requirements, plus getting tested if you’ve been exposed. Working together, we can eliminate this virus!