Q: What did your team’s recent study of COVID-19 staff-testing methods reveal?

A: Surveillance testing was very effective and we likely underinvested in this. Cheap and fast, but slightly less accurate, on-site antigen tests performed about as well as highly accurate lab-based PCR tests for providing valuable information that helped prevent or slow outbreaks. Facilities that had to wait particularly long for lab-based results did worse than those who got results back more quickly.

Q: So spending about $5 per week per employee for one extra test would have been meaningful? 

A: To the federal government, that’s a drop in the bucket. It could have prevented an estimated 3,079 resident COVID cases and 427 resident deaths per week (in 2020). This translates into a cost of about $13,000 per life saved, an incredibly good value relative to the cost of other life-saving treatment — which could easily range into the millions of dollars per individual — that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services typically covers.

Q:Why didn’t providers use more free tests from the government?

A: I think some of the misinformation and the misunderstanding about the value of the point-of-care testing inhibited our ability to maximize their benefit. [Tests arrived] without a lot of instruction, without a lot of education about how to use them and what they’re good for.

Q: What are some of the implications looking ahead?

A: In the presence of a future infectious disease outbreak or future pandemic, rapid, frequent surveillance testing should be a priority.