Iceland has proven itself to be a force to be reckoned with in regards to their national COVID-19 testing strategy. Iceland’s health care officials have partnered with deCode Genetics, a private company, to administer COVID-19 testing all across the country.
Their approach to testing is unlike anything we’ve seen, as they are offering free screening to all citizens even if they don’t present symptoms.
This is contrary to experiences in the United States, where even those who are presenting symptoms are sometimes unable to get access to a test.
Through their partnership with deCode Genetics, Iceland has been able to administer tests to 3.5% of their total population, whereas that statistic hovers around 0.16% in the U.S. On the results, Iceland’s chief epidemiologist told Buzzfeed,
“Early results from deCode Genetics indicate that a low proportion of the general population has contracted the virus and that about half of those who tested positive are non-symptomatic. The other half displays very moderate cold-like symptoms,”.
This data, while highly valuable, can’t truly be used to deduce facts about the state of the virus in the U.S. Health experts explain that the makeup of each country is going to be different, as are practices around quarantining and social distancing. Some policies are followed more closely in one country than another.
However, the data is highly useful in painting a picture of the virus’ journey within Iceland itself. The test can track the mutations of the virus as well as the pace of its spread. They explain, “We have found 40 island-specific virus mutations.
We found someone who had a mixture of viruses,”. However, experts also explain that mutations are completely normal as a virus travels. The results have also shown us that around half of the people who have tested positive never displayed any symptoms.
A key takeaway from Iceland’s success here is that we cannot end COVID-19 without rethinking our approach to testing. We must develop the means to test everyone who exhibits symptoms and even those who don’t, as half of the positive test results came from people who were asymptomatic. In fighting this pandemic, we have to go straight to the source.
The World Health Organization has even stated that every country must begin widespread testing as soon as possible. They believe that we will not be able to stop the spread of this deadly virus unless we test all citizens, symptomatic or not.
They explain, “All countries must take a comprehensive approach but the most effective way to prevent infections and save lives is breaking the chains of transmission and to do that you must test and isolate,”. As we are testing, we must also invest in contract tracing as well, aiming to identify and contain people who are unknowingly transmitting it to others, especially if they are not following social distancing practices.
We can take a hint from Iceland’s playbook in order to cut this virus at the source. In increasing testing practices, we give our country the best fighting chance possible.