A new testing guideline arrives just in time to show that the pandemic is abating. Hail Biden
If you see a dramatic decrease in the number of infections over the next few weeks, credit the World Health Organization for fixing a problem with the testing procedure that some experts said over-counted the number of infections.
Under the new guideline, you might see a possibly dramatic decline the in the infection rate.
The kicker: The W.H.O. announced the correction on Jan. 20, the same day that President Donald Trump left office and Joe Biden was inaugurated.
Call it a coincidence. Or a quid pro quo for Biden from the W.H.O for restoring the United States’ membership in the organization, a payoff that will cost American taxpayers more than $400 million.
The guideline can get rather technical, but here are a couple of places that might help the layman: WHO releases new tightened guidelines regarding the diagnostic criteria for COVID-19. PCR positive no longer means you have COVID-19. You need a second test to confirm you have the virus and Why PCR Cycle Threshold Is Useful in Coronavirus Testing— It can help better triage patients, physician argues.
Let’s see if I can boil it down. Under the old guideline, test results came back either “positive” or “negative.” Some experts warned that the the simple yes-or-no option was too “sensitive,” so much so that the test would include not-so-serious levels of infection.
(This next four paragraphs are new) The data based on these yes-or-n0 tests would tend to exaggerate the seriousness of the infection because the threshold for declaring a yes was so ultra sensitive that it could include people only slightly infected or showing no symptoms. Or who are unlikely to pass on the disease. All these different levels of seriousness would be batched together with more serious or even fatal cases.
Or let me try to explain this another way: When using certain tests, the measure of the seriousness of the infection if something called “cycles.” If you spin with higher thresholds–say 40 cycles–the chances of getting a false positive, because this ultra sensitive test might tell you that you are infected, but only because the test is picking up, say, dead viruses. But it never detected the real virus because it didn’t show up at lower levels.
But if you spin at only, say 30 cycles, the test will reveal the real virus and you never in danger of getting the false positives at the higher levels.
I should note that it’s up to each lab to determine how many cycles it will use. But if many decide to use the new guidelines and switch to a lower spin cycle, it could correct the serious overstatement of the incidence.
The policy implications are dire. Data that overstate, perhaps vastly so, the infection rate will lead to overreactions–shutting down schools and businesses, confining pe0ple to their homes and to overly long quarantines. And to crippling economic and emotional distress.
So, the new guideline will produce a more accurate test, thereby revealing to doctors the degree of seriousness of the infection, allowing them to better prescribe treatments. The new method for collecting data will enable policy makers to better prescribe such things as how open the economy can be.
If you’re still with me, congratulations. This isn’t easy going, but a lot about this pandemic isn’t. The problem is explained in another way in a New York Times article:
The standard [previous] 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.
The new guidelines have been little noticed outside of medical professionals, and as far as can tell, I am may be the only layman writing about it.
But the consequences of the change could be immense. The number of cases is the one measure that gets the most attention in the media. For some, it is the best measure to most accurately gauge the extent of the pandemic, and over time it is used to conclude whether the pandemic is intensifying or receding.
So, the question now: If the new way of conducting tests is more accurate, why wasn’t the guideline changed sooner, months ago when experts understood the problem?
Inexplicably the effective date of the new guideline was Jan. 13, but it wasn’t published until Jan. 20, the date of Biden’s inauguration. Was it delayed to mute a possible Trump complaint that the seriousness of the pandemic was overstated because of “fake” data? Was the announcement of the new guideline held up until Biden took office so that the new data would “prove” that Biden was doing a better job than Trump?
I’ve watched the Chicago Way in action long enough to customarily suspect that political skulduggery is in play, on an international scale. If so, it would be a stunning betrayal if a health organization could be so politicized that it would fudge something that would otherwise help the world deal with the pandemic.
Whatever the reason, the implementation of a more accurate method of gauging the pandemic is a welcome development. Anything that helps us better understand how to deal with this novel coronavirus will save lives.
The problem is that experts were aware of the problem months ago. The change should have come months ago.