The Daily Dose: Testing for SARS-CoV-2 in America hits one snag after another

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Worldwide, the COVID-19 outbreak continues to be a fluid situation. Beijing ordered the quarantine of all foreigners arriving in the country for 14 days. Meanwhile Poland and Ukraine have ordered all schools on all levels closed. And South Korea has suffered a setback in its fight to contain the novel coronavirus. As per the Associated Press, “While cases have been waning in South Korea, a new cluster in Seoul raised alarms. The cluster was connected to a call center in one of the busiest areas of the capital. So far, 93 people have tested positive among the call center’s employees and their families, but the number could grow as hundreds more undergo testing.”

Problems continue to hamper the United States’ bungled response to the COVID-19 outbreak, particularly when it comes to testing, an essential step in controlling an outbreak. First tests relied on faulty reagents. Now that that problem has been solved, public health officials are faced with a shortage of reagents. “CDC Director Robert Redfield told POLITICO on Tuesday that he is not confident that U.S. labs have an adequate stock of the supplies used to extract genetic material from any virus in a patient’s sample — a critical step in coronavirus testing.” These problems are basic matters that could have been addressed with adequate planning when the coronavirus first emerged as a threat.

Researchers are exploring every avenue when it comes to developing strategies against SARS-CoV-2. That includes digging through the existing arsenal of drugs to see if they are effective against the coronavirus. As per Science News, “Finding new uses for old drugs is a good strategy, especially when racing to fight a fast-moving disease for which there is no treatment, says Karla Satchell, a microbiologist and immunologist at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.” Let’s hope there are answers off-label.

An Science interview with a Yale University social scientist and physician, Nicholas Christakis, clearly establishes the rationale behind school closures. “Proactive school closures—closing schools before there’s a case there—have been shown to be one of the most powerful nonpharmaceutical interventions that we can deploy. Proactive school closures work like reactive school closures not just because they get the children, the little vectors, removed from circulation. It’s not just about keeping the kids safe. It’s keeping the whole community safe. When you close the schools, you reduce the mixing of the adults—parents dropping off at the school, the teachers being present. When you close the schools, you effectively require the parents to stay home.”

The problem of reproducibility has become a major question facing science. Numerous studies have sought to explore what proportion of experiments result in reproducible findings. The verdict is still out. In an attempt to guarantee reproducible results as well as study the issue DARPA did something different. As per Nature, “In 2016, the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) told eight research groups that their proposals had made it through the review gauntlet and would soon get a few million dollars from its Biological Technologies Office (BTO). Along with congratulations, the teams received a reminder that their award came with an unusual requirement — an independent shadow team of scientists tasked with reproducing their results.”

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