The pandemic is again raging in Italy, where strict lockdowns and widespread mask-wearing were once believed to have tamed the coronavirus contagion.
It was the first country to impose lockdowns and left them in place longer than most other nations. Its national mask mandate is enforced by military police, with fines recently increased to 1,000 euros per violation. Public health experts this summer said the country was a model for dealing with the contagion.
Yet the virus is once again raging there with a record 39,809 new cases—more than six times its daily peak last spring.
The resurgence of COVID-19 in Italy and throughout the West points up an unpleasant truth about our public health response: lockdowns + mask-wearing + “wait for a vaccine” does not sum to a solution.
Plan A has failed. The lockdown strategy, like mask mandates, rests on ignorance. Since we don’t know who is infected, we treat everyone as though they were infected, shuttering schools, businesses and churches and keeping our distance from others. Tragically, once we confirm an infection, we advise the infectious person to stay home and expose family members to the disease.
We need a Plan B — one that relies on existing technology. That plan? Let people use rapid tests they can read at home to learn if they are infected. Such tests require only a saliva sample on a paper strip and yield rapid results. They cost only a few dollars to produce and don’t require laboratory analysis, enabling broad population screening at low cost.
By screening millions of people daily, we arm them with information they need to protect themselves and others. Those who test positive should undergo more accurate testing to confirm or rule out a COVID-19 diagnosis. If positive, we should then help them separate from the uninfected.
President Trump should call on the FDA to approve rapid self-screening tests. States that default to lockdown strategies (with $10,000 fines for noncompliance that Connecticut’s governor has imposed) are ignorantly following brutal, failed policies.