As the world fights the COVID-19 pandemic, the tone in America has shifted since the initial battle cry to “flatten the curve.” The lockdown of schools and non-essential business has passed the 10-week mark and caused a counter-reaction to re-open businesses, states, and the overall economy.
Short of a vaccine, many public health officials agree that mass testing is a critical element to re-opening societies from lockdown. Mass testing (paired with contact tracing) has proven to be an effective solution during re-openings in societies like South Korea and Germany.
I found this person’s first-hand experience flying to Hong Kong to be very enlightening. As a member of the medical supply chain, I am reading her posts and immediately looking at all the supplies involved. Caregiver PPE, sterile instruments, kit shortages, and more. To do mass testing in more countries (like the South Korea approach), what would that look like? Here in the US, can we imagine mass testing at every airport terminal? Once a week at every workplace? In mass waves as universities and schools come back in the fall?
If you get through that thought exercise, then it becomes a numbers game for supplies. Swabs, vials, tubes, transport media, and the hidden element … packaging. Without sterile packaging, a swab test cannot be trusted to give accurate results. The swab or transport media could acquire bacteria that changes the chemical reaction of its diagnosis. Just like you would not trust results from a faulty thermometer, we should not mass produce test kits without ensuring the mass production of sterile packaging to support it.
On a tactical level, this could mean each test producer has to keep a higher level of safety stock for their existing packaging. At an industry level, we should be ready with pre-produced pouches that can be expedited as test producers run out. Finally, at the government level, should a federal surplus of test kit packaging be ordered? If we learn any lesson from the PPE shortage, it is that free market wheeling and dealing will lead to a feeding frenzy of buyers that can negatively impact our hospitals and patients.
The way our society rallied around PPE shortages has been admirable but could have been avoided altogether. I hope we collectively have enough foresight to not make the same mistakes for mass testing and test kit packaging. What are your thoughts? How else can our industry be ready to fight a potential shortage due to mass testing?