YOU get a test! And YOU get a test! And YOU get a test! EVERYBODY gets a test!
Well, maybe the announcement Friday by Gov. Chris Sununu didn’t quite match the enthusiasm of an Oprah giveaway, and no one has to look for the envelope taped under their seat. But it was important news nonetheless.
For those who missed it, Sununu said in his Friday press conference that there are enough tests available in New Hampshire now that anyone who wants one can get tested. In fact, he urged those who are asymptomatic to get tested, noting: “There’s just a lot of asymptomatic spread that has been identified not just here in New Hampshire, but across the country.”
He’s right, and it’s one of the biggest dangers of this pandemic: that it spreads even when no symptoms are evident in the carrier. As has been explained by myriad experts, but still seems to elude some people, that is why the Granite State, and others, should be moving slowly, if at all, in taking steps that put more people in proximity to each other.
Two studies, published simultaneously Monday in the journal Nature, concluded social distancing — stay-at-home orders, business closings and travel bans, for example — has prevented 62 million cases in six countries, including the U.S., since governments began taking those actions. One study found social distancing in 11 European nations saved 3.1 million lives. The other study reported the actual number of cases prevented in those six countries is more likely close to 530 million. In the U.S. alone, researchers at the University of California at Berkeley estimated the moves prevented 4.8 million diagnosed infections and 60 million actual infections.
Additionally, Samir Bhatt, senior author of the study at Imperial College London, cautioned: “This is just the beginning of the epidemic … The risk of a second wave happening if all interventions and precautions are abandoned is very real.”
Still, understanding the economic imperative to reopen businesses — and the emotional need for a return to something akin to normalcy — it’s clear those steps will be taken. Indeed, they are already underway.
Thus the added importance of testing, especially among those who plan to return to close contact, but don’t think they’re sick. Someone feeling the symptoms of COVID-19, and that list of symptoms seems to grow each week, is likely to take precautions. Someone feeling fine, or having minor issues, is more likely to return to normal interactions, or even to disregard the pandemic entirely.
New Hampshire has not been a hotbed of coronavirus cases, especially this corner of the state. We’ve been fortunate to be a bit isolated, have many smart and cautious residents, and benefited from quick action by Sununu and local leaders, employers and others in distancing early.
As the pandemic continues, however, better knowing who is contagious will be a vital piece of information. The diagnostic PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests determine who has the virus. They have not proven to be completely accurate, which is a concern, but state officials peg their accuracy at more than 95 percent. The other limiting factor is that you can test negative, and then come into contact with the virus. So having had a negative test in the past is not assurance that you don’t have the virus now.
That’s an important caveat. As two local health officials explain (See story on Page A1), one of the downsides to having apparently healthy people get tested is that they’ll then push to get back to “normal,” when they ought to be continuing to socially distance. Another worry is that those who test positive will later feel they’re immune, when no such conclusion has been reached.
But as in the case of a pandemic unlike any we’ve faced before, having some knowledge is better than having none. Now, everyone has the chance to obtain that knowledge, for themselves and, as importantly, for those studying the spread of the virus.
Test appointments can be made by visiting nh.gov/covid19. One of the testing sites is on Krif Road in Keene.