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Your Coronavirus Test Is Positive. Maybe It Shouldn’t Be.
The usual diagnostic tests may simply be too sensitive and too slow to contain the spread of the virus.

Tests authorized by the F.D.A. provide only a yes-no answer to infection, and will identify as positive patients with low amounts of virus in their bodies.
Tests authorized by the F.D.A. provide only a yes-no answer to infection, and will identify as positive patients with low amounts of virus in their bodies.Credit...Johnny Milano for The New York Times
By Apoorva Mandavilli
Published Aug. 29, 2020
Updated Sept. 9, 2020

Some of the nation’s leading public health experts are raising a new concern in the endless debate over coronavirus testing in the United States: The standard tests are diagnosing huge numbers of people who may be carrying relatively insignificant amounts of the virus.

Most of these people are not likely to be contagious, and identifying them may contribute to bottlenecks that prevent those who are contagious from being found in time. But researchers say the solution is not to test less, or to skip testing people without symptoms, as recently suggested by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Instead, new data underscore the need for more widespread use of rapid tests, even if they are less sensitive.

“The decision not to test asymptomatic people is just really backward,” said Dr. Michael Mina, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, referring to the C.D.C. recommendation.

“In fact, we should be ramping up testing of all different people,” he said, “but we have to do it through whole different mechanisms.”

In what may be a step in this direction, the Trump administration announced on Thursday that it would purchase 150 million rapid tests.

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