The First Line of Offense on Omicron: Testing

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By Dave Hickey

The emergence of the COVID-19 Omicron variant has provoked a heightened sense of fear and confusion around the world. Amid this novel threat to personal and public health, it is critical to continue leveraging testing to track and prevent the spread of the virus. Reliable and widely available testing remains one of the most important measures to mitigate the proliferation of COVID-19.

Hours after the first Omicron infection was confirmed in the U.S., President Biden announced new measures to protect Americans against the spread, including campaigns to increase vaccination efforts, tighten testing requirements, and provide more people with rapid at-home tests free of charge. With a renewed appeal from public health officials to be vaccinated and get boosters, and uncertainty regarding the efficacy of the vaccines against the novel variant of concern, we must continue to leverage every preventative and diagnostic tool we have.

While vaccines and social distancing measures remain the first line of defense against COVID-19, testing is our first line of offense. The efficacy of existing vaccines against Omicron is still being researched and understood. Offensive testing measures have been assured. BD and other test-makers have announced confidence in the ability of their rapid antigen and PCR tests to detect the novel variant despite its high number of mutations.

With family gatherings and holiday parties on the near horizon, detection is more important than ever. Despite how normalized preventative measures have become for certain areas, like putting on a mask before going indoors or showing a vaccine card before dining, people are weary and the long duration of the ongoing health crisis has eroded a sense of vigilance for many. Moreover, there is a false sense of security for some, inspired in part by misinformation that COVID-19 vaccines provide blanket protection.

Doubling down on wider, more extensive testing efforts for both symptomatic and asymptomatic people can ensure crowded spaces like office buildings, airports and shopping centers remain as safe as possible. And importantly, it can keep our children in school and prevent vulnerable healthcare systems from becoming overwhelmed during a time when contracting coronavirus as well as other viral infections like the flu is already more likely.

Rapid diagnostic testing has become critical whether at home, an urgent care facility, or doctor’s office for providing results to patients and healthcare professionals as expediently and accurately as possible. It is vital to ensure patients who test positive receive treatment swiftly to better their chances for a rapid recovery and avoid a prolonged illness. Testing can determine the difference between containment and outbreak within a family, at a school or across an office.

As we continue to manage the outbreak of new variants and the myriad of unknowns they pose, and as efforts to get people fully vaccinated and boosted continue, testing will remain a steadfast tool in the fight against COVID-19.

Dave Hickey is executive vice president and president of the Life Sciences segment of BD (Becton, Dickinson, and Company), a global medical technology company. 

(BD manufactures and sells a wide variety of products for the safe collection and transportation of diagnostic specimens, as well as instruments and reagent systems to accurately detect a broad range of infectious diseases, infections, and cancers—including COVID-19.)