It is fair to say that every one of us would like to see progress against COVID-19 and toward a return to normalcy. And if you follow the news, you’ll hear that testing is the key. Test more! Test better! Different kinds of testing! Home testing, drive-up testing, more testing centers. Antibody tests!
And testing has indeed been ramping up. More states are testing sick people, and some have gone beyond. Tennessee has announced that now anyone can be tested for the coronavirus, independent of symptoms.
While a sick individual’s diagnosis won’t change their course of treatment, especially for a mild case, it does inform self-isolation measures and contribute to tracking of the disease’s spread. But we are still not doing enough of the key thing: truly random testing. To see why this is so crucial, it’s useful to start with one of the key open questions in the pandemic: What share of people are already exposed?
There are a lot of unanswered questions with COVID-19—how far it travels in the air, how best to treat it, why some groups and people are so much more affected than others. But among these lurks a more fundamental question in the background: How widespread is the virus, anyway? This is an extremely important question, but it’s also very hard to address. Why?