Two weeks and ten million Covid tests in Wuhan
During the last two weeks of May, all residents over the age of 5 in Wuhan, China were tested for the presence of active replication of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Tests identified 300 people with active infection. None of those tested showed any sign of infection. All family members and close contacts of the 300 people were also tested. None were found infected. The surfaces of the living spaces of infected people were also cleaned and tested. No viral nucleic acid was found on any of the nearby surfaces or doorknobs. Wuhan officials believe this proves those who tested positive were not very contagious. Since the end of the series of tests, no new cases of Covid have been identified in Wuhan or in the whole of Hubei province.
The mass testing initiative follows a small isolated epidemic new infections in the city, more than a month after the lifting of the home maintenance order in mid-April. The mass screening program aimed to break the chains of transmission and reassure residents about the safety of the city.
At the height of the testing campaign, a million people per day were being tested. Test stations have been set up throughout the city. To speed up the testing process, samples were pooled and tested for up to five people. If one of these samples is found to be positive, all five samples are tested individually. Throat swabs rather than nose swabs were used for sample collection.
Before the start of the campaign, residents were informed that it was their civic duty to participate in the program to protect themselves, their families and their city. Signs posted in neighborhoods reminded residents “A nucleic acid test is your responsibility to yourself, your family, and society.” Yet, whether residents recognize that it is their civic duty or not, participation is mandatory. According to reports, an official announcement read: “You will receive a text from local health officials, as well as your national identity card, you will be tested.” If your test is negative, you will receive this ‘health code’, and only then can you return to work, ”he said.
Health code refers to a color-coded system that people must display on their cell phones when prompted. Green is for those who are clear, yellow for those who are exposed, and red for viruses that are positive. If you were color-coded yellow, you could turn from yellow to green after a period of controlled quarantine. Or from red to green after recovery and a mandatory quarantine isolation period. A green and clear personal identification code is required for entry into public areas.
All the inhabitants of a second city, Mundanjiang, are also being tested for active infection. This follows the discovery on June 3 that 15 people in the city were actively infected. Mudanjiang is located near the border between Russia and South Korea. The infection may have entered the city by residents returning from Russia by land. All 2.5 million residents over the age of five will be tested over the next six days.
China’s efforts to contain Covid-19 are truly impressive. Once the disease was known to be easily transmitted among people and the deadly consequences of the infection were understood, China put in place highly effective public health measures that reduced the number of new cases per day of thousands in February to hundreds in March, less than fifty. in April, and at a low figure for the whole country in May. All this without a vaccine or medication to stop the spread of the virus.
But what are we doing today in America to stop the epidemic? Virtually nothing compared to what China has achieved. The Centers for Disease Control and Treatment used to share their tally of the number of viral tests administered nationwide. In mid-May, they ended the practice and began bundling viral tests – which test for active infection – with antibody tests, which can show that a person has already been infected. At the time, the number of viral tests administered since the start of the epidemic was around 10 million. Less than what a city in China managed to do in two weeks.
Now that the CDC no longer publicly shares viral testing numbers, it is impossible for us to know if we are ramping up our testing enough to make a difference. What we do know is that we can make a difference.
The take-home message from Wuhan’s testing frenzy is simple: The epidemic can be stopped in its tracks with the public health measures we already have in place. Governments that fail to implement these measures are failing in their primary duty to protect the people of their nation.