johnson134_VALERIE MACONAFP via Getty Images_covid testing Valerie Macon/AFP via Getty Images

Vaccination Is Not Enough

New variants of the coronavirus are spreading quickly from their places of origin, and there are indications that existing vaccines may be less effective against some of them. Fortunately, we can take advantage of another encouraging development that has received relatively less attention.

WASHINGTON, DC – In the next stage of the fight against COVID-19, can we rely on vaccines alone? Although vaccination in the United States and some other countries is beginning to pick up pace, in most countries it hasn’t even begun. Meanwhile, new variants of the coronavirus that are impacting other parts of the world have also appeared in the US – and there are indications that existing vaccines may be less effective against some of them.

Fortunately, we can take advantage of another encouraging development that has received relatively less attention. In places that have established regular COVID-19 screening tests – at universities, schools, and other places where everyone is tested at least once per week – data from the past six months indicate that infection rates can be kept down to less than 0.5% (one positive person per every 200 people tested each week).

This is significant, because many of these programs operate in places where, according to the official statistics, the reported positivity rate in the surrounding community is much higher – up to 10% in some cases (ten positive people per every 100 tested each week). This is true, for example, of public schools in Watertown, Massachusetts and New York City. Even in places where the infection is surging, transmission can be limited in environments such as schools. If this low infection rate is truly possible in general, and if the operational procedures that make regular testing possible are scalable, we can operate schools, childcare, and many workplaces in a much safer manner – during and even after rollout of the vaccine.

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