Posted by Richard Willet Posted on 16 April 2020

Has COVID-19 Testing Made the Problem Worse?


Concerns about the virus SARS-COV-2 that causes the disease called COVID-19 have centered around reported mortality rates. However, errors in reporting those rates have led to confusion regarding the true health impacts. Because estimated rates are dependent on the test used to identify infected patients, understanding that test and its history could lead to much needed clarity.

Errors in reported mortality rates have come from mistakes in calculation. An example has been equating the measured case fatality rate (deaths divided by patients actively infected) with the actual mortality rate (deaths divided by patients who were ever infected). The latter number is unknown and will not be known until antibody titers can be performed to see who has previously been infected.

But that actual mortality rate is expected to be much lower, perhaps around 0.3% as estimated by an epidemiologist from Stanford University.

Another common error has been attributing the deaths of all infected people to COVID-19, regardless of other pre-existing illnesses.

This error has been magnified by governments mandating that all deaths of presumptive patients be listed as death from COVID-19, even if the patient was never tested for SARS-COV-2 at all.

The mortality rate errors would be further worsened if there were errors in testing for presence of the virus. What is becoming increasingly clear is that there have been serious questions regarding the reliability of that testing.

The test in question uses a technique called reverse transcriptase quantitative polymerase chain reaction (RT-qPCR) to identify the presence of RNA from SARS-COV-2. Testing follows different protocols in different countries and the first problem was seen in China, the reported origin of the virus.

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