COVID-19 tests

Brief update on previous note Things have moved at quite a pace on masks since my last note. On March 31st, the World Health Organization (WHO) stood by its recommendations that members of the public should not be wearing masks (Ref 1). On April 2nd, news stations around the world reported that the WHO was reviewing the evidence (Ref 2). In the early hours of April 4th, the South China Morning Post reported that the WHO had changed course and now recommended wearing masks in public (Ref 3). The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has just issued new advice to wear cloth masks (Ref 4). At the time of writing this, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England said that the advice (to not wear a mask) had not changed (Ref 5). Introduction to this week’s note Testing is the other hot topic in COVID-19 news. The key message from the WHO conference on March 16th, 2020 was “test, test, test” (Ref 6). This makes sense. We are making huge decisions at the moment with little information and the more information we can gather, the better. However, all medical tests have limitations and we need to be aware of these limitations in the context of COVID-19. This note, therefore, is about the limitations of medical tests generally, what we would like to know about COVID-19 tests and what we may not be able to know for sure.

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