Tag: pandemic

Testing Times: Why There’s a Testing Shortage and How to Fix It

On Tuesday, the BBC Breakfast ran a report on the government’s COVID-19 testing initiatives in the UK. It was pretty damning.

The main take-away from the report was the link between test shortages and staff shortages. This link should be considered from two perspectives. Firstly, test shortages in the NHS have forced Trusts to cut down on staff and volunteers who are not needed. Of course, this decision has only increased the workload for remaining staff – for example, NHS technicians processing the tests have complained about the lack of staff, claiming that it has only aggravated extant problems and contributed to increased waiting times for patients. Relatedly, known problems with the accessibility of drop-in test centres have been deepened by the shortage, with some patients being forced to drive up to 100 miles to find an operative centre. 

Secondly, such failures within the NHS have had rather troubling effects on the general population’s ability to work. Increased waiting times and lack of accessibility, all caused by or intensified by the general lack of tests, have meant that those with symptoms who have been requested by their workplace to get tested will spend longer off work. Paired with the localised lockdowns in various areas of the country, these hiatuses will be hindering what had previously appeared to be a somewhat promising economic recovery. 

In their desperation to return to work, many Britons have turned to the private sector. Nevertheless, the vast majority of these tests remain priced outside the average person’s budget, mostly because of the type of tests available. 

However, rapid testing, which has seen an upsurge in support from the scientific community in recent months, is cheap, and it delivers results in just 15 minutes – a time to which no other type of COVID-19 test even comes close.

For a number of months on this blog, I have been advocating for the NHS to switch to rapid testing. Rapid testing has an advantage over PCR testing in all the areas that the latter is currently failing. Firstly, rapid tests can be mass produced on a superior scale at lower costs. Secondly, the test does not require expert processing, freeing up the overworked laboratory technicians that currently keep the PCR testing programme running. This also means that far more tests can be done by the patients themselves at home, easing the pressure on drop-in centres. 

If these reforms could be implemented, we might see an end to unnecessarily long wait times and a rejuvenated NHS, better equipped to deal with the ongoing pandemic. If we are to continue our steady recovery from lockdown, it seems essential that this is done, and quick. 

If you are in need of a rapid test, take a look at our product range on our website

On the Rule of 6: What Does It Mean?

On Monday, Boris Johnson’s government introduced a number of laws which prohibit gatherings of more than 6 people. 

This news comes on the back of rising infection rates and other reports on the systemic failure of the UK’s COVID-19 testing infrastructure. Many have cited the inefficiencies of the currently-dominant PCR tests in dealing with such periodic infection spikes, especially in a country which has been slowly attempting to restart its economy.

Now, it’s worth going over the content of these laws in a bit of detail since, as usual, there has been a lot of confusion surrounding them. First off, these new measures override the social distancing rules that have been in force since the beginning of August. Obviously, this means that the ban on gatherings of more than 30 people has been replaced but more surprisingly, the talk of households has also been scrapped. Previously, members of two separate households could meet inside and all sorts of complicated limits on number of households held when gathering in venues or outside. 

But the thinking behind these new rules emphasises simplicity of understanding and a corresponding strength of enforcement. From now on, if there are more than 6 of you mixing anywhere at any time, no matter how many different households you are all from, you’ll be fined and asked to disperse. Simple as that. 

On that note, the £100 fine that we’ve all heard so much about applies to all individuals involved in an illegal gathering. That’s each and every person, so scrap your plans to ignore the rules and just split the cost. It rises in increments up to £3,200, I should add, although the circumstances in which you’d be charged any of the extra amounts are unclear.

You might have also noticed that these rules apply everywhere. Whether you’re celebrating with friends at the pub, watching Tenet with your mates at the cinema, having a barbecue in your garden or playing boardgames with some work colleagues at home, you’re subject to these rules. There are a number of exceptions, including workplaces, educational institutions, group sports, funerals and weddings. Find the full list of exempt activities here.

And before you ask how the police will know that you’re watching Line of Duty in your house with more than 5 friends, the government have explicitly encouraged your neighbours to alert the police if they suspect anything.

For many of us, these measures are a shock. We’ve been under varying levels of lockdown since March, now, and many have taken solace in the fact that, slowly but surely, things were gradually getting better. After such a prolonged fight against COVID-19, how could we still be facing such restrictions on our daily lives?

Unfortunately, as many of you know, it is because over the last month and especially over the last few weeks, cases have been steadily rising, with intermittent but worryingly large spikes. For example, last Friday, we saw cases rise by 3,539, which, for context, places us at the lower end of the sort of curve which sent us all into lockdown in March. So, there are very real reasons why this law has been introduced and therefore, why you should take them seriously.

Now, there might be a number of ways that such measures could have been avoided or be stopped. As a number of reports have shown, the government have failed to create a robust testing apparatus, partly as a result of their dependence on slower testing methods. However, rapid tests, which deliver results in 15 minutes, are becoming increasingly available and thus more capable of meeting the current levels of demand. With faster, cheaper tests like these, the government might be able to avoid the sorts of measures that were introduced on Monday whilst easing our economy back into first gear.

If you think you might be interested in rapid tests, take a look at our website for our product range.

Rapid Testing and COVID-19: Why Are We Being So Sensitive?

As all of us absorb some of the more troubling aspects of the recent government announcements, we might not be able to avoid a sense of déjà vu. Just like at the end of March, the government is making decisions very quickly that will have a sizable effect the British public. Even more so, the government is pursuing the same line of response that they pursued back in March, leading some to question how far we have really come in our understanding of how to deal with the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Over the last few weeks, however, there have been a number of breakthroughs in the scientific community. These revelations concern the sensitivity of rapid testing, a topic that has been hotly debated in the months since lockdown began. For many, the fact that rapid tests were unable to detect antibodies and viral material below a certain threshold was a fatal flaw, further confirming the predominant use of PCR testing which can detect below this threshold.  

The problem lies in the fact that PCR tests – like those available on the NHS – take at least 48 hours to return a result. Given that the government advises those with symptoms to stay at home, this might mean that the patient misses two days of work at the least, which, as infections rise again, could threaten the financial stability of those already hit hard by the pandemic. Similarly, those interested in travelling might have to postpone or even cancel their plans if they experience symptoms at an inopportune time. Clearly, there is an incentive here for Britons to simply take their chances, to keep functioning in ignorance by not applying for a test or to apply for a test but make no adjustments to their behaviour while they wait for the results. In both cases, the delay inherent in PCR testing poses a problem for mitigating infection rates.

But, since rapid tests are not as sensitive as PCR tests, we have no other option but to continue with this line of response, right?

Well, Harvard immunologist Dr. Michael Mina has a strange yet simple answer (which he lays out clearly and concisely in a recent New York Times article): what if rapid tests are just insensitive enough to miss non-contagious or non-immune individuals who nevertheless have some tiny amount of viral material or antibodies? Put another way, what if a positive result from a rapid test gives us all the information that actually we care about: are we infectious/immune or not? 

Dr. Mina would answer in the affirmative. He does not dispute that rapid tests are less sensitive but still holds that they are more useful that PCR tests, since we are not interested in detecting any and all amounts of viral material or antibodies but only those amounts which make a patient contagious or presently immune. So, why are we being so sensitive?  Rapid testing offers the British public the power to make informed decisions at the pace of their lives. PCR testing interrupts their lives to give them information that they don’t need.

If you are interested in purchasing a rapid test, take a look at our online shop and our eBay page.

An SME’s guide to mitigating infection in the workplace

As an SME, we’ve been eager to find information on managing the risks to our employees’ health. Luckily, there are a number of resources available to small businesses who have already re-opened or are set to reopen in the coming weeks. 

Some of the resources we found most useful can be found on the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and Federation of Small Businesses’ websites, including downloadable risk-management checklists, accessible legal guidance and up-to-date reporting on government policy. 

Much of the guidance focusses on changes to work-flow or organisation. For example, maintaining social distancing is an essential requirement for any business operating in the near-future, so you might consider bright floor-markers which guide your employees through their procedures whilst ensuring they are two metres apart. Similarly, the cleaning of surfaces will have to occur more frequently, prompting suggestions to reduce working hours in order to maintain this necessarily high standard of cleanliness. 

In addition to these sorts of changes, improvements in personal hygiene practices while at work will also be required. Instituting protocols such as frequent hand-washing (especially in workplaces which will be serving customers in person), the tying up of long hair and, where possible, a strict separation of work materials between employees, i.e. distributing digital copies of documents instead of sharing physical ones, attempting not to share pens, keyboards, mugs, chairs, etc. A determining factor in the efficacy of these measures appears to be generalising the use of PPE within your workplace. 

One of the most important aspects of new workplace practice is the protocol for determining and reacting to the infection of an employee. Yet, this is a discussion missing from many of the available guides and checklists.

At Lab Solutions, we had an idea. If small businesses had some convenient means to detect infection, they might be able to respond quickly enough to prevent further contamination. That’s why we’re offering Return2Work, a COVID-19 response kit which includes surgical gloves, masks, an external thermometer and a quick blood-test. 

Alongside all the other preventative measures that have been outlined so far, Return2Work’s external thermometer in particular might be a helpful addition to your new health and safety procedures. For example, by monitoring the temperatures of employees as they enter work at the beginning of the day and leave at the end, you can stay abreast of any stark increases. These measurements will then indicate whether someone needs to use Return2Work’s quick blood-test, which will confirm whether the temperature increase is a result of COVID-19. 

Staying aware in this way gives you the freedom to be versatile in your health and safety procedures, tightening or loosening your protocols depending on the results of tests. This versatility is possible because Return2Work gives you both greater power to prevent and respond to infection.

If you feel that Return2Work might be useful for your business or would like further information, visit our website.

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