Testing works and has worked well since the beginning of the pandemic. Testing will also be an important defensive tool moving forward as we continue to fight this invisible foe. Research, as well as Juniper’s experience from the front lines, suggests that a robust testing strategy is a very strong protective measure against COVID-19.
At Juniper, we started universal COVID-19 testing in early April. At the time, this was unique, as others in our industry generally were only testing those with symptoms. Our early testing produced enlightening results: 72% of residents who tested positive were asymptomatic; 94% of associates who tested positive were asymptomatic. This was critical information to have early on in the COVID-19 pandemic and allowed used to formulate a strong and largely successful battle plan against the pandemic.
As the second surge began, we upped the ante. In COVID-19 hotspots, we began to test associates twice per week. While we continued to use PCR testing as our primary tool, we gained the added benefit of rapid antigen testing for quick answers if someone exhibited possible symptoms. While we have had cases of COVID-19 in this second round, this robust testing protocol allowed us to essentially “stop COVID at the door”. In most cases, we were able to identify the potential transmitter before COVID-19 spread within the community. Almost all individuals to date have recovered.
A recent article in Health Affairs: “Increased Intensity of PCR Testing Reduced COVID-19 Transmission Within Countries During the First Pandemic Wave” by Ravindra Prasan Rannan-Eliya, Nilmini Wijemunige, J.R.N.A. Gunawardana, Sarasi N. Amarasinghe, Ishwari Sivagnanam, Sachini Fonseka, Yasodhara Kapuge and Chathurani P. Sigera (https://doi.org/10.1377/hlthaff.2020.01409) corroborated our anecdotal findings. The research suggested that there is a positive correlation between regular PCR testing and transmissibility. The article states:
“Among interventions, PCR testing had the greatest influence: a tenfold increase in the ratio of tests to new cases reported reduced the average reproduction number by 9 percent across a range of testing levels…..Increased testing and isolation may represent the most effective, least costly alternative in terms of money, economic growth, and human life for controlling COVID-19….Around half or more of COVID-19 transmission is caused by people who are asymptomatic or who have only minor symptoms; only increases in PCR testing make it possible to increase detection and isolation of infectious cases and then increase the numbers of their potentially infectious contacts who are isolated. This remains the only known approach that blocks person-to-person transmission sufficiently to stop the epidemic”.
Testing will remain part of Juniper’s strategy post vaccination. The early vaccination trials did not test whether those vaccinated continued to transmit the disease asymptomatically. By continuing to test we should find answers to those questions relatively quickly, adding to the body of knowledge we use to determine strategy. Moreover, and far more importantly, testing provides another layer of protection to those who are most vulnerable to the virus. At Juniper, that has been our motivating force since the start of the pandemic – protecting our residents and our associates who care for them