Weekly COVID tests: good or bad for the world?
November 16, 2020 11:13 PM   Subscribe

I live in a place with lots of free, walk-in COVID testing sites, and a relatively low but increasing case count. I'm not a frontline responder but I am required to show up in person to work most days, as are my colleagues. I otherwise mostly stay home, but do shop for groceries and go on the occasional hike with friends. Would getting tested once a week or so be a responsible decision to try to keep others safe, or a waste of scarce public resources?

For the first months of the pandemic I was able to isolate fairly seriously - I went to the store when necessary to do a speed run for groceries, but otherwise I was at home or lucky enough to be enjoying hiking and camping in the wilderness. In the past couple months my job has changed, requiring in-person work 3-4 days a week, and not having a car means my shopping trips have also become more frequent than I would prefer. I don't socialize with anyone particularly at-risk and never inside, but I do plan outdoor activities with a couple people once or twice a month.

I recently went for my first free public COVID test and found it surprisingly easy, pleasant, and seemingly safe. I feel as though I'm around other people enough that I would like to get tested frequently - obviously this wouldn't protect me from getting infected, but it could stop me from inadvertently infecting others. I'm youngish and healthyish and fear being an asymptomatic spreader.

My question: would this be a net good or harm for society? On the one hand: we generally consider more testing to be good, and if I ever did test positive I could inform all the people with whom I'd been in contact and self-isolate. On the other hand: although my state doesn't define who qualifies for the free tests, it seems aimed at those who are experiencing symptoms or who have had contact with somebody who tested positive, and the idea is that folks who get tests will self-isolate until they receive their results. If, theoretically, I get tested once a week, COVID isn't reliably detectable for the first few days after exposure, there's a particular timeframe of 3-7 days after infection during which I'm most likely to spread the disease, and it takes a couple days to get results (during which I'd be doing my normal routine), it seems as though in most cases by the time I got results the damage would be done. In addition, tests are not a finite resource: both for the local government funding them and for the other residents who have to wait in line that much longer because I'm there.

What's the responsible thing to do here?
posted by exutima to Health & Fitness (5 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'm in Australia, let me share the public health advice for my state:
  • If you have symptoms, no matter how mild, get a test. Then isolate until you get your results.*
  • If you are a close contact, even if symptomless, get a test. Quarantine* for a life-cycle of the virus (14 days), get tested again on the 11th day or when symptoms develop.
  • If you work in aged care, a meat-works, hospital, or other high risk setting, you'll get swabbed regularly. You can continue your regular duties while you wait for results.
So, in that case, I wouldn't just roll up and get tested just because.

However, since you are concerned about asymptomatic spread, if someone has a sniffle that you interact with, perhaps get tested?

*People not isolating when waiting for results while symptomatic were a big cause of the spread of our second wave. Also people not quarantining properly. Sometimes it was because they couldn't afford to miss work.
posted by freethefeet at 12:08 AM on November 17 [4 favorites]

I work at a university where staff doing about your level of people-interaction at work are getting tested every week or every other week. They did a lot of work with computer modeling and epidemiologists to come up with those numbers. Based on that, I’d say that testing a few days before your semimonthly social outings or any time you have symptoms would be a responsible rate of testing.
posted by tchemgrrl at 3:41 AM on November 17 [3 favorites]

I think weekly or every other week is pretty reasonable if you're working outside your home in a place with a lot of community spread. The City of Boston is offering its employees a paid hour off every two weeks to get tested, for example.

Also getting tested has benefits even if you're out and about while you're contagious, because you know more quickly that you *were* out and about while contagious and you can let the people you came in contact with know that they've been exposed that much earlier. And even potentially trace back to the person/event from whom you acquired the infection.
posted by mskyle at 3:49 AM on November 17 [9 favorites]

Epidemiologists need data. They need lots of data -- tests, and percent positive -- so they can provide good advice to the public, about how prevalent the disease is. Getting that data is what public resources are for, so no, your data point is not a waste of public resources. Give them your data!
posted by Dashy at 8:21 AM on November 17 [3 favorites]

Another Australian here, where we have much clearer guidelines, and I wouldn't in your case, unless there was no line at the testing site. Like no line at all. I wouldn't want to discourage someone with symptoms from getting a test because the line looks long.
posted by kjs4 at 7:39 PM on November 17

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