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James Stock: Government Must End Ban of Cheap Rapid Response COVID-19 Antigen Tests

Writing in the FInanical Post, James H. Stock on why Lockdowns are too blunt a weapon against Covid makes three key points:

1. “[E]conomic lockdowns are neither necessary nor sufficient to suppress Covid-19”

[E]conomic lockdowns are neither necessary nor sufficient to suppress Covid-19. But the concerted use of largely non-economic interventions can suppress the virus and set the stage for the recovery of demand and employment in restaurants, travel and other high-contact sectors. …economic lockdowns alone are a blunt, costly and only partially effective instrument of public health.

2. Less expensive measures though individually not effective, when combined together become highly effective

There are many less expensive measures that, when deployed together, can be highly effective. These include working from home and setting rules to make the workplace safe. Taking special steps to protect the elderly, reopening the lowest-contact economic sectors first, banning the highest-risk activities such as bars and large social gatherings, wearing masks, social distancing and enhanced testing, quarantine, and contact tracing are already familiar. If they are seriously adopted, together they can suppress the virus without resorting to a new round of economic lockdowns.

2. The most important measure is wide use of frequent, cheap, rapid screening tests

Most important, testing for the virus remains grossly inadequate….Rapid screening tests need to be widely available…My colleague Michael Mina argues persuasively that the government should fast-track approval and production of cheap paper-strip antigen tests that would alert the newly infected of the need to isolate.

Screening tests need not detect every infection. Mathematically, rapid testing and isolation acts like herd immunity: by reducing the chance that a susceptible individual comes into contact with an infected one it can drive the basic reproduction or “R” number below one. Even if a testing regime pulls only a fraction of the infected out of circulation, that — along with other measures such as widespread mask usage and targeted bans of potential superspreader events — can suppress the virus, bring down deaths to very low levels and set the stage for a strong recovery.

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