Covid-19 Live Updates: At-Home Virus Tests Remain ‘Aspirational’

Experts urge caution at Labor Day celebrations after cases spiked following other U.S. holidays. Melbourne, Australia, extended its lockdown by two weeks.

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The police in Hong Kong stopped a protest over local elections that had been postponed amid the pandemic.

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As hope builds over possible frequent at-home testing, experts call the idea a long shot.

Over the past few weeks, a Harvard scientist has made headlines for a bold idea to curb the spread of the coronavirus: rolling out antigen tests, a decades-old underdog in testing technology, to tens of millions of Americans for near-daily, at-home use.

These tests are not very good at picking up low-level infections. But they are cheap and convenient, and return results in minutes. Real-time information, argued Dr. Michael Mina, the Harvard scientist, would be far better than the long delays clogging the testing pipeline.

The fast-and-frequent approach to testing has captured the attention of scientists and journalists around the world, and that of top officials at the Department of Health and Human Services.

But more than a dozen experts said that near-ubiquitous antigen testing, while intriguing in theory, might not be effective in practice. In addition to posing huge logistical hurdles, they said, the plan hinges on broad buy-in and compliance from people who have grown increasingly disillusioned with coronavirus testing. The aim also assumes that rapid tests can achieve their intended purpose.

“We are open to thinking outside the box and coming up with new ways to handle this pandemic,” said Esther Babady, the director of the clinical microbiology service at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York. But she said antigen tests that could work at home had yet to enter the market.

Also, no rigorous study has shown that fast and frequent testing is better than sensitive but slower in the real world, she said. “The data for that is what’s missing.”

What has been put forth about the approach is “largely aspirational, and we need to check it against reality,” said Dr. Alexander McAdam, the director of the infectious diseases diagnostic laboratory at Boston Children’s Hospital and an author of a recent report on pandemic testing strategies in The Journal of Clinical Microbiology.

Most of the coronavirus tests to date rely on a laboratory technique called PCR, long considered the gold standard because it can pick up even small amounts of genetic material from germs like the coronavirus.

But sputtering supply chains have compromised efforts to collect, ship and process samples for PCR tests, lengthening turnaround times. And the longer the wait, the less useful the result.

Hong Kong’s police thwart a protest over postponed elections.

Thousands of police officers in riot gear filled the streets of Hong Kong on Sunday, stifling a protest over the postponement of legislative elections because of the pandemic and over China’s imposition of a national security law that gives the authorities sweeping new powers to pursue critics.

A large police presence was seen across the Kowloon Peninsula, where some activists had called for a march on the day the elections were initially scheduled to take place, despite social distancing rules that prohibit mass gatherings. Although occasional pro-democracy chants broke out as small groups wound through side streets, the number of demonstrators remained small compared with the huge crowds that gathered last year.

While Hong Kong has seen an increase in coronavirus cases over the past month, a recent wave has largely been brought under control. The city announced 21 new cases on Sunday, after more than a week of daily totals in the single or low double digits.

Hong Kong’s government, with the aid of a team from mainland China, began a universal testing program last week that it said was necessary to break hidden chains of virus transmission. Some activists and health care workers urged residents to boycott the plan, calling it a waste of resources motivated by a political desire to burnish the image of China’s central government.

Health officials said on Thursday that six positive cases had been found in the first batch of 128,000 tested in the program, including four people with previously confirmed cases who were treated in hospitals. Five more cases detected through the program were announced on Sunday. About one million people in the city of 7.5 million have registered for tests.

After earlier post-holiday spikes in cases, a warning for Labor Day weekend.

For many Americans, Labor Day is a goodbye to summer before children go back to school and cold weather arrives. But public health experts worry that in the midst of a pandemic, this weekend could result in disaster in the fall.

After the Memorial Day and Fourth of July weekends, cases of Covid-19 surged around the United States after people held family gatherings or congregated in large groups.

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert, said he wanted people to enjoy Labor Day weekend, but urged precautions to avoid a post-holiday spike in cases: Take the fun outdoors; avoid crowds, and keep gatherings to 10 people or fewer; and even outdoors, wear a mask and practice physical distancing if spending time with people outside your household.

“We see what happens over holiday weekends, and we want to make sure we don’t have an uptick,” Dr. Fauci said.

In terms of daily case counts, the United States is in worse shape going into Labor Day weekend than it was for Memorial Day weekend. The nation now averages about 40,000 new confirmed cases per day, up from about 22,000 per day ahead of Memorial Day weekend.

Dr. Fauci said that a spike in infections after Labor Day would make it far tougher to control the coronavirus’s spread in the fall as people head indoors.

Public health experts said it was more challenging to persuade people to curtail their Labor Day weekend plans compared with past holiday weekends, because so many people are feeling pandemic fatigue after six months of restrictions, closures and separation.

“People are getting tired of taking these precautions and of having their lives upended,” said Eleanor J. Murray, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the Boston University School of Public Health. “They’re missing their friends and family, and everyone wishes things were back to normal. That’s totally understandable, but unfortunately we don’t get a say, really.”

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