One of the problems with tackling the coronavirus epidemic is that in the United States at least, a severe shortage of test kits has prevented doctors across the nation from measuring which individuals have coronavirus and which do not. As a result, the official US tally of roughly 700 cases is believed to be a significant undercount, including 236 new cases announced over the weekend alone. Without test kits, it’s obviously much harder to measure how far the virus has spread across the country. Bill Gates wants to help with that and his medical foundation is close to a test for coronavirus that you can take at home.
Here’s how the system is intended to work. The Gates Foundation is creating a home testing kit you can take by swabbing your nose and sending the sample to an address for analysis. Results would be shared with local health care officials, who would notify you of the diagnosis. Infected people would be asked to provide information on their movements and contacts via online forms. The goal is to be able to process thousands of kits per day, which would be a substantial improvement over existing testing capability. Here’s the Seattle Times, referencing the situation in Washington State, one of the epicenters for the viral breakout in the US:
While Public Health – Seattle & King County has confirmed 71 cases and 15 deaths as of Saturday, modeling by Trevor Bedford, a computational biologist at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, estimated on Wednesday that the actual number of cases in the Seattle area was about 600. Unchecked, that could theoretically increase to 12,000 cases – and possibly as many as 30,000 – by the end of March, according to projections from Mike Famulare at the Institute for Disease Modeling in Bellevue. But steps to slow transmission can significantly reduce the number of new infections, underscoring the importance of acting quickly to protect people from the virus.
As of Monday evening, 7:45 PM, Washington State had 167 coronavirus cases and 22 deaths. The next-closest outbreaks were in New York (142 infected, 0 deaths) and California (138 infected, 2 deaths). The goal of the Gates-funded program is to reduce the number of doctor visits potentially infected people need to make in order to limit the spread of the virus. There’s no timeline on exactly when the new kits will be available, but the goal is to alleviate the substantial shortage that has prevented US officials from having an accurate picture of how many people are infected.
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