Detecting Covid-19 in individuals and across the general population has remained a constant and, seemingly, elusive effort despite improved understanding of the disease and the behaviors that transmit it. Yet, it remains the central mechanism for lessening Covid-19 transmission, barring widespread vaccination or herd immunity. Testing is not a monolith; there are variations in the quality of tests and in the speed and quantity at which they can be deployed. Detection—testing’s precursor—is equally fraught, given the variability of Covid-19 symptoms and the fact that many people show no symptoms at all.
Despite these challenges, there is general agreement that both widespread testing and the ability to detect Covid-19 symptoms to compel testing and quarantine (if necessary) are essential for society to “reopen.” As the subheading of Faye Flam’s November 19th article in Bloomberg Opinion succinctly stated, “Near-constant testing would turn the tide in a matter of weeks.” A fact borne out by current efforts in Slovakia.
The heavy lifting required by technicians for the molecular RT-PcR tests, the availability (or not) of testing materials, and the speed (or lack thereof) of results has compelled efforts to develop less burdensome, rapid tests. Equally, widespread use of smart phones and wearables alongside developments in AI have provided new opportunities for collecting biometric data that can help track symptoms. This week on Plan C Live, hosts Dale Dougherty of Make: Community and Dorothy Jones-Davis of Nation of Makers speak with Dr. Michael Snyder from Stanford and, a group of researchers from Yale—Dr. Chantal Vogels, Dr. Orchid Allicock, and Dr. Mary Petrone—who have been at the forefront of these developments.
Dr. Michael Snyder heads The Snyder Lab at Stanford University where his laboratory develops and uses a variety of approaches to analyze genomes, other omes, and regulatory networks and apply these approaches to understand human variation and health. Dr. Snyder and his team have invented a system in whereby “activity tracking and health monitoring via consumer wearable devices may be used for the large-scale, real-time detection of respiratory infections, often pre-symptomatically,” as recently reported in Nature. He is also the founder of SensOsmics, which invents cutting-edge wearable technologies to early detect pediatric diseases.
As part of a collaboration between the Yale School of Public Health, the National Basketball Association, and others, Dr. Chantal Vogels, Dr. Orchid Allicock, and Ms. Mary Petrone have been leading and developing the Saliva Direct Project—an accessible saliva-based laboratory diagnostic test that is simpler, less expensive, and less invasive than the traditional method for such testing, known as nasopharyngeal (NP) swabbing. “Wide-spread testing is critical for our control efforts. We simplified the test so that it only costs a couple of dollars for reagents, and we expect that labs will only charge about $10 per sample. If cheap alternatives like SalivaDirect can be implemented across the country, we may finally get a handle on this pandemic, even before a vaccine,” said Nathan Grubaugh, one of the scientists spearheading the research.