By S. Ginsburg, Matzav.com
We all agree that the goal of our community is to keep schools and shuls open and to enable families to live their lives as normally as possible. Yet there are some in the community who suggest and even mandate that testing–and the ensuing quarantining–is the answer. In reality, COVID-19 testing of asymptomatic and mildly symptomatic individuals is both unnecessary and counterproductive.
Human-to-human transmission of viruses can only take place if live virus is present and the viral load is sufficient. When virus carriers remain asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic, their viral loads are small. According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, “Even if there is some asymptomatic transmission, in all the history of respiratory born viruses of any type, asymptomatic transmission has never been the driver of outbreaks” . Furthermore, the WHO admitted in June that asymptomatic transmission is extremely rare . (When the WHO later “retracted” this statement, the WHO stated that even though human contact tracing studies showed that asymptomatic transfer is “very rare”, their computer models suggest otherwise. It goes without saying that computer models should only be trusted when they model reality–not when they contradict reality.)
If both recent contact tracing studies and the entire history of respiratory viruses suggest otherwise, what is the basis for the claim that asymptomatic transmission is a major factor in driving this pandemic? The answer lies in the fact that many–in fact, most–people who test positive for COVID remain asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic . For example, the CDC estimated that as many as 40% of COVID carriers are asymptomatic. In another study, out of 3000 inmates who tested positive for COVID, a whopping 96% were asymptomatic ! Yet there is an alternative explanation for the prevalence of asymptomatic COVID.
PCR tests are known to generate false positive results. For instance, in 2006 PCR tests suggested the existence of a pertussis (whooping cough) outbreak at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center when 146 individuals tested positive for pertussis. However, a gold standard test later revealed that not even 1 individual actually had pertussis ! At least two other pseudo-outbreaks implicated PCR tests, leading the CDC to proclaim that “overreliance on the results of PCR assays can lead to implementation of unnecessary and resource-intensive control measures” .
Currently there is no gold standard COVID test that is commercially available, but direct DNA sequencing can be used to validate PCR test results. When a group in Japan used direct DNA sequencing to confirm PCR tests, they found that 30% of positive tests were false positives . A study in Norway that did not use direct DNA sequencing concluded that 93% of positive COVID tests were false positives , and the New York Times reported just last week that 90% of positive COVID tests are from people with clinically insignificant viral material .
The sensitivity and specificity of PCR tests depend on the number of amplification cycles the test performs. The higher the number of amplification cycles, the higher the sensitivity; the lower the number of amplification cycles, the higher the specificity. Mildly symptomatic patients were detected with amplification cycles as low as 18-20 , and pre-symptomatic patients were detected with a median cycle threshold of 23.1 . Researchers at the Robert Koch Institute in Germany found that any viral load detected beyond 30 cycles was unable to be cultivated in a lab , and according to the CDC it is extremely rare to find live virus particles when the amplification cycle is higher than 33 . The European CDC says that any virus detected with more than 35 amplification cycles may be due to reagent contamination . Shockingly, the FDA does not specify a standard number of amplification cycles for COVID PCR tests and empowers commercial manufacturers and labs to “set their own standards” . And most PCR tests being used in the United States are using 40 amplification cycles, with some using “only” 37 !
Is it any wonder, then, that people can test positive for COVID for three months after becoming infected even if they were not infectious for more than 5-10 days ? If the number of amplification cycles was limited to 30, 70-90% of positive tests would become negative . Put differently, even if a person tests positive for COVID, the chances that the person has “clinically significant” or “infectious” COVID is only 10-30%! This is probably why the CDC revised their COVID testing guidelines and no longer recommend testing of asymptomatic people even if they were exposed to COVID or did not practice social distancing in a COVID setting . In fact, the CDC states that even mildly symptomatic individuals do not need to be tested for COVID if they are not vulnerable (e.g., immunocompromised) individuals .
How, then, can we assume that all people who test positive for COVID are indeed infectious when we know that the vast majority are not?!? How can we mandate quarantines of asymptomatic people who were merely exposed to someone who tests positive for COVID (e.g., family members, schoolmates, shul members) when the CDC itself states that such measures are unnecessary?!? And what do we gain by testing asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic people for COVID other than scaring individuals and the community about COVID cases that are very unlikely to be infectious?
The calls to perform COVID testing in classes, schools, and the community need to stop. The calls to quarantine asymptomatic family and friends of people who test positive for COVID need to stop. The calls to test people with mild symptoms that may be due to COVID or many other illnesses (e.g., cough, headache, runny nose, nausea, etc.) need to stop. And when we stop detecting irrelevant COVID cases and over-relying on PCR tests, we may find that schools, shuls, and batei midrash can remain open without the implementation of “unnecessary and resource-intensive control measures”.