COVID-19 Testing Stifled

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

A recent publication in Nature illustrates how innovative efforts to increase coronavirus testing across the US, such as those through the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub, are being stifled by regulatory and administrative obstacles embedded in the fragmented healthcare system. As a medical student with prior work experience navigating patients through this system, I’d suggest that the academic institutions leading these efforts could be looking beyond traditional healthcare providers to maximize their testing capabilities.

Engaging with community health organizations and employers would enable academic laboratories to offer testing at full capacity. While large medical institutions have refused testing support simply due to system incompatibilities, community health organizations are dedicated to improving access to care and may be more willing to collaborate on implementation to overcome such challenges. These organizations’ flexibility stems from their commitment to reducing healthcare disparities for diseases like HIV, where they provide tests to those that would otherwise not receive them. Empowering these groups to test for SARS-CoV-2 will also build upon their critical role in disseminating data locally, which can guide public health initiatives and prevent the spread of disease in vulnerable communities.

For employers, employer-sponsored testing allows for these businesses to ensure the safety of both employees and their families, and to get employees back to work. Employers’ financial incentives and social responsibilities create a drive for them to implement low-cost testing solutions to support a transition toward economic normalcy. Partnerships between academic laboratories and employers to offer organized testing creates a win-win situation in which academic labs operate at full capacity and employers operate safely.

Addressing the immediate consequences of the coronavirus pandemic requires creative solutions that go beyond the traditional healthcare system. Rather than waiting on a federal response to streamline testing, communities and businesses can look to mobilize and maximize testing resources.