Today’s Solutions: December 03, 2021

If you haven’t been tested for COVID-19 yet, chances are you will be at some point this year. Luckily though, the experience now may be more pleasant than the first tests, which are not only deeply uncomfortable but also added to the early problems of testing.

The first tests involved a five-inch-long swab being snaked far up the nose for sampling. A process that – apart from being extremely unpleasant – can put healthcare workers’ lives at risk, as it often makes people cough or gag thus increasing the spread of germs, and leading to even more shortages in protective equipment since nurses have to continually change their PPE with each test

Looking for a better way to test people for the virus, a researcher named Yuan-Po Tu at United Health Group quickly launched a study with more than 500 patients in the Seattle area, asking participants to collect samples themselves from the lower nasal area with a shorter nasal swab. Tu and his team then compared the test results with the standard nasopharynx test.

The alternative methods worked. Samples from the lower part of the nose had a 94% accuracy, and mid-nose samples had a 96.2% accuracy. (Nasopharyngeal swab tests have a reported 98% sensitivity; the higher the sensitivity, the fewer false-negative results.)

By late March, based on the results of the study, the FDA had issued new guidance saying that self-administered tests with shorter swabs could be used in COVID testing – good news for both healthcare workers and those being tested.

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