A lot of hope on reopening businesses and returning to work in the U.S. hinges on COVID-19 testing and the development of treatments and a vaccine.
But as the country ramps up antibody testing – analyzing blood samples for signs someone has been exposed to or infected with the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 – physician and economist Peter Ubel of Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business warned about the potential consequences of imperfect tests.
“Right now, there have been a lot of tests that have been approved by the FDA, but some are not so great,” he said. Many tests boast what may sound like low error rates, he said. Yet even seemingly small rates of false-positive and false-negative results could lead to people unwittingly spreading the virus, either thinking they are not infected and safe to socialize, or falsely believing they have already been exposed to the virus and can’t be infected again. Therefore, the idea that people could use testing to determine who’s immune and can return to a non-socially-distant life may not be realistic, he said.
“I think this idea of an ‘immunity passport’ is not ready for prime time, because I don’t think any test could be accurate enough to give us anything but a false sense of security,” Ubel said recently on a live broadcast for Fuqua followers on LinkedIn (see videos). He also co-authored an opinion piece in The Washington Post on the topic.
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