The Briefing provides an at-a-glance view of some important developments in the information universe surrounding COVID-19. The views presented here are solely those of ECRI Horizon Scanning and have not been vetted by other stakeholders.

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Two types of coronavirus tests are worth noting: tests that detect coronavirus itself and tests that detect antibodies to coronavirus (ie, evidence of the body’s immune response against coronavirus). The first is slow, expensive, and precise. These tests can return an actual diagnosis—according to the CDC’s definition—of COVID-19. The second is fast, less expensive, less precise, and is typically used to detect past exposure to the coronavirus. While these tests might indicate if a person has been exposed to virus, they cannot return a definitive diagnosis of an active infection. However, some experts, after weighing the balance of evidence, think widespread deployment of antibody tests might help bring some normalcy back to our lives.

In this issue of the Biweekly COVID-19 Scan, we report on 2 tests (see Topics to Watch) that aim to upend this dichotomy. Both purportedly detect the actual virus but do so faster than the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests that are currently the gold standard. These new methods of rapid testing might help bring the power of definitive diagnosis to more people in less time. Although accuracy must always be balanced with speed and cost, the potential for more effective testing in the United States is growing.

In addition to the topics reported here, ECRI Horizon Scanning is monitoring 15 screening and diagnostics topics that might have an impact on the US health care system relative to COVID-19 in the coming year (see the first issue of the Horizon Scanning COVID-19 Supplement Status Report).

Next-Generation Sequencing Assays to Diagnose COVID-19

At a Glance

  • Next-generation sequencing (NGS) assays use deep sequencing and computational methods to diagnose COVID-19, distinguish between different infectious diseases, track the spread of the coronavirus, and expedite broad screening of large populations for coronavirus exposure.
  • NGS assays can purportedly test between 2000 and 3000 samples simultaneously. They may only be performed at laboratories certified under the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments of 1988 (CLIA).
  • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to 2 NGS assays and is evaluating other assays.

Rapid Point-of-Care Breath Test to Detect Coronavirus

At a Glance

  • A point-of-care test for detecting coronavirus in breath samples based on the detection of viral particles using terahertz spectroscopy is being developed by researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel.
  • The test purportedly takes less than a minute to perform, and initial studies demonstrated about 90% agreement with results generated by gold-standard nucleic acid testing.
  • Test developers estimate that the test could be commercially available as early as the fall of 2020 and cost between $50 and $100 per kit.

Commentary in this COVID-19 Scan reflects preliminary views of ECRI Horizon Scanning and internal ECRI stakeholders.
The information contained in this document has not been vetted by other stakeholders.

We welcome your comments on this Scan. Send them by email to [email protected].

Posted: August 26, 2020

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