The Latest: The case for the rapid Covid-19 test

Dear Reader,

Everyday life is now dominated by near-constant risk assessments. Whether it’s navigating the weekly grocery run or deciding if it’s safe to send children to school, the endless decision-making can take its toll on the brain. So how do you approach pandemic choices? Two infectious disease epidemiologists put together this very thorough five-step decision framework that’s meant to empower people to make informed choices about daily life in the same way pandemic experts do.

READ: The Ultimate Step-by-Step Guide to Making Decisions in a Pandemic

People are also finding their own ways to deal with the uncertainty of modern life, including a turn to spirituality. This feature looks at how spirituality as wellness is growing in the pandemic, from an increase in daily prayer to a doubling down on practices like astrology and tarot.

P.S.: Everyone is going gray. Not just you. Here’s why.

Follow our Medium Coronavirus Blog for regular updates, and read some of the essential stories we’ve curated below.

Be well,

Alexandra Sifferlin
Editor, Medium Coronavirus Blog

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A pandemic perspective:

“America seems so insane to us dwellers Down Under it seems impossible to believe what we are reading and seeing.” — Jeff Stander, “Sequestered in Tasmania

Here’s what we’re talking about this week:

The backlogs for Covid-19 tests are bananas. Some people, including my colleagues, are waiting weeks for results. But there’s a dream scenario in which you could test yourself for Covid-19 and get an answer right away. Some health experts are pushing for the U.S. to embrace antigen tests, which are cheaper and faster-acting than the gold standard test currently being used. However, the Food and Drug Administration requires Covid-19 tests to detect at least 80% of positive cases, and these rapid tests are closer to 50%. While that doesn’t seem great, that difference in accuracy is really only at the very beginning or very end of the disease, when people aren’t really infectious. “The tests are much more precise when people have millions of viral copies in their nose and throat, which is also when they’re most infectious, even without symptoms,” reporter Dana Smith writes. Read more about that here and here.

A recent analysis of testing sites found that white neighborhoods have more access to testing sites and that testing sites in communities of color in many U.S. cities face higher demand, longer wait times, and are understaffed. This is one issue contributing to a larger problem of not getting testing access to people most at risk. “When access to testing is divorced from risk, the numbers lose their meaning and can mask failure,” Natalie Dean, PhD, assistant professor of biostatistics at the University of Florida, recently shared on Twitter. “This is why disaggregating even further (race, neighborhood, occupation, symptom status, etc.) is needed.” Read more about the issue here.

A vaccine for Covid-19 is a highly anticipated breakthrough for this pandemic. I am dreaming about the day I can get one; it can’t come soon enough. But many scientists worry that the rush to get a vaccine to market could lose public trust if the time isn’t taken to confirm the vaccine is safe and effective. Over 400 vaccine experts signed a letter this week to the head of the FDA urging caution regarding the White House’s “Warp Speed” Covid-19 vaccine race, writing that “an effective vaccine will only be truly useful if a large proportion of the public is willing to take it. More than 60% of U.S. voters prefer that a Covid-19 vaccine be thoroughly evaluated before it is made available, even if doing so delays its rollout.” Read more about the letter here.

Yesterday, Dana Smith and I chatted about how the brain processes the stress of navigating the pandemic. According to Dana, the brain can become exhausted from constant anxiety. “With stress, the brain evolved to deal with acute stress — the tiger, the snake, whatever. That triggers hormones to cue your fight-or-flight response so you can deal with the threat immediately,” she says. “But with chronic stress, the threat doesn’t resolve, and those hormones don’t drop. That can lead to something called allostatic load, where essentially your brain just gets burned out by remaining in this amped-up state, and that can take a real toll and cause physical changes in your brain and body.” I think I’m experiencing allostatic load, and I bet you are too. Read more of Dana’s insights here.

A few smart reads:

I’m a Flight Attendant. The Airlines Don’t Care Enough About My Health or Yours.

There’s Still Some Hope for the U.S. This Fall

The Unique Devastation of Cancer in a Pandemic

How Do We Know if a Virus Is Bioengineered?

Scientists May Be Using the Wrong Cells to Study Covid-19 (Wired)

Even Asymptomatic People Carry the Coronavirus in High Amounts (New York Times)



A blog from Medium for Covid-19 news, advice, and commentary.

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Alexandra Sifferlin

Health and science journalist. Former editor of Medium’s Covid-19 Blog and deputy editor at Elemental. TIME Magazine writer before that