Last month, a Miami man who’d just come back from a work trip to China went to a local hospital to get tested for the coronavirus after developing flu-like symptoms. Fortunately it turned out to be a flu, not the deadly Covid-19. But two weeks later, he received a bill of $3,270 for the simple tests he received at the hospital. And even after insurance coverage, he would still be responsible for $1,400.
That story is deeply worrisome to Americans as Covid-19 quickly spreads throughout the country. There are already nearly 1,000 people confirmed to have contacted the virus in the U.S. But the absurdly high price of getting tested has led many to wonder how many more infected people are unidentified in plain sight.
Now there’s a ray of hope, thanks to Bill Gates, who’s been generously devoted to helping the world tackle the Covid-19 outbreak lately. To make testing for the coronavirus easier and cheaper than what we learned from the Miami story, a project funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has developed an at-home testing kit that’s ready to roll out to residents of the Seattle area, the region hit hardest by the coronavirus in the U.S. so far.
As first reported by the Seattle Times on Monday, the Gates-funded project aims to “eventually be able to process thousands of tests a day” and expand beyond Seattle to more areas.
Those who suspect that they may have contacted the coronavirus will need to fill out an online form to request a testing kit. They will then be asked to send a nose swab sample back to the lab for analysis. Results will be available in one or two days and, if positive, be fully shared with local health officials to track the virus.
Testing at home can also reduce the need for sick people to visit a hospital, thus lowering the chance of spreading the virus to others.
“Although there’s a lot to be worked out, this has enormous potential to turn the tide of the epidemic,” Scott Dowell, the leader of coronavirus response at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, told the Seattle Times.
In a recent blog post titled “How to Respond to Covid-19,” first published in the New England Journal of Medicine, Gates laid out what he believed to be the most important considerations for policy makers and medical researchers in this time of a looming pandemic—which are, in short, accelerating technical solutions (including vaccines and antiviral drugs), form an international effort and preparing government funding.
“In the past week, Covid-19 has started to behave a lot like the once-in-a-century pathogen we’ve been worried about. I hope it’s not that bad, but we should assume that it will be until we know otherwise,” Gates wrote in the post dated February 28.
The philanthropist stressed the importance of helping developing countries that are hit by the epidemic. “In addition to helping their own citizens respond, donor governments should help low- and middle-income countries prepare for this pandemic,” he wrote. “The health systems in many of these countries are already stretched thin, and a pathogen like coronavirus can quickly overwhelm them…By helping countries in Africa and South Asia get ready now, we can save lives and also slow the global circulation of the virus.”
At press time, there are 1,037 cases of Covid-19 in the U.S. and more than 100,000 globally.