How to re-purpose the COVID-19 testing system

(in reference to Re-purposing the COVID-19 testing system)

Once covid has been finally subdued, rather than dismantle the new testing and tracing capability we have built, we should re-purpose it.

We will have spent a great deal on lighthouse labs, trained technicians, mobile testing capacity, IT infrastructure and QR codes. We have introduced new habits and awareness about how infections spread and how they can be contained, and built analytical capability to ‘see’ social networks and contacts. Large numbers of people and businesses have also become used to working from home, and are set up to do so.

There are many other repository and other illnesses that we have all accepted as a fact of life. We should re-purpose the testing capacity to pick up other forms of infectious disease. Whenever someone feels ill, they should be immediately able to get access to a general purpose screening test that would check not just for covid (which may still be lurking, or mutating) but other common infectious illnesses.

People should be able to get such tests without having to be referred via a clinician, such as at workplaces or transport hubs.

Of course, expect for very serious or notifiable illnesses (eg TB) people wouldn’t then be required by law to self-isolate. But they could be given v rapid appropriate advice. This could include treatment options, and also behavioural recommendations, such as work at home for the next week.

A scaled back contact tracing service might also be maintained (depending on the cost benefit analysis for savings achieved to the NHS and economy for catching illnesses early). This would involve rapidly tracing those who the person has been in contact with and making recommendations for looking out for the symptoms, staying at home etc.

It might also be possible to use the system to help address less obvious pathogens. Evidence from the (USA) Framingham study showed how suposedly non-communicable illnesses also spread through social networks. For example, it was found that obesity spreads through social networks very much like infectious diseases, albeit on a slower timescales. If your friends get fat, then it is much more likely you will too. We should use the infrastructure of the T&T system to provide more personalised support and advice to similarly contain life-style related illness.

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