In the COVID-19 era, every American is suddenly faced with very real and devastating challenges. These challenges are not limited to the four walls of our homes, or even to our workplaces and schools, but reach across the Lowcountry, the state and the entire nation.
From the perspective of governing, every decision, no matter how well-intended, has the potential to devastate public health, our economy, or both. What do we shut down? How long do we keep it shut down? In a time like this, how do we incorporate public health into the greater public good, the job market and our economy?
As a state representative, I wrestle with these challenges every day.
As it stands right now, in South Carolina you can only be tested for COVID-19 if you actively have symptoms.
We’re all making sacrifices to keep our friends and family alive, but at some point we have to be able to get back to work and back to school. And we have to be able to do that without putting ourselves in harm’s way.
In order to get back to some form of normalcy, one thing is abundantly clear: We need the ability to rapidly test. Two new technologies, rapid viral testing and pinprick serology tests, are going to be critical to this endeavor.
The pinprick tests are similar to what a diabetic would use to check blood sugar. These are done in 15 minutes or less, and can be done at home by pricking your finger. The test then tells you if you’ve had COVID-19, and how recently, by testing for antibodies to the virus.
The rapid molecular tests rely on swabs of the nose, similar to existing COVID-19 tests and rapid flu tests. These tell you with certainty whether you are fighting the virus right now. The new tests can have results in five minutes.
Both of these tests tell us three things.
Are you sick now? If so, stay home, self-quarantine, take care of yourself and seek medical attention if your symptoms progress and warrant immediate medical attention.
Are you asymptomatic but carrying COVID-19? It’s estimated 25% or more of those who have COVID-19 don’t even know it. If you’re an asymptomatic carrier, you risk infecting those around you without your knowledge.
Were you sick but weren’t tested for COVID-19? The serologic test can tell if you had COVID-19 weeks or even months ago and have since recovered. You may even then be able to return to the workforce knowing you no longer carry the coronavirus, can’t spread it, and have some protection from getting it again. You could even consider donating your blood for patients who have serious or life-threatening infections from COVID-19.
Furthermore, according to CDC data, there has been an unusually high spike in “influenza-like illness” in certain states, including South Carolina, since before the present crisis. These individuals tested negative for the flu. If more people than originally thought have already had coronavirus, it means those already exposed can likely return to some normalcy in their lives.
These rapid tests are the fastest way to understand the spread of the virus, and will also be the fastest way to help us open back up again. The more widespread information we have, the safer we will all be. This is a vital step to getting South Carolina and our nation back on track.
Right now, access to these tests is held up by red tape, cost and, you guessed it, regulations. In order to stop the spread, we must know the facts.
Even still, we will all have to continue with caution for a time to protect our community. But every facet of public policy, our health and our economy is improved by the availability and wide use of serological testing or rapid blood prick tests for COVID-19.
As the new rapid testing becomes available, I urge our state not to wait. And if the state won’t act, I am urging our private laboratories, hospitals, medical firms and suppliers to help us get there and fast.
State Rep. Nancy Mace of Daniel Island is a Republican candidate for the 1st Congressional District seat.