COVID-19 Update: Serologic Testing Guidelines, Testing Choke Points

Editor’s note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape’s Coronavirus Resource Center.

Here are the coronavirus stories Medscape’s editors around the globe think you need to know about today:

Serological Testing Guidelines Updated

The Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) published updated guidelines on antibody testing today, which describe both the best time and clinical applications for the tests. But test specificity will be key in clinic and public health settings, experts emphasized.

The IDSA panel identified an ideal window for antibody testing after infection. Too early and the antibodies won’t show up and too late and the response may have waned. 

The “sweet spot” is 3 to 4 weeks after infection, one expert explained, which will reduce the risk of false negatives.

Testing Limited by Choke Points

Even as government and healthcare leaders call for expanded COVID-19 testing and faster reporting, the US system is limited by key choke points, according to a new report

More testing sites after all, can increase the number of samples collected but doesn’t automatically increase the number of laboratories to run the tests. And laboratory capacity and testing supplies both appear to be limiting points in the system. 

“It’s pretty stunning that we are still having these bottlenecks,” one expert said, noting that the local backlogs are “a local manifestation of national shortages.”

Online Information Key for Clinicians

The pandemic has accelerated the demand for online medical content, according to an online Medscape market research survey of more than 8000 physicians. And nearly a quarter of respondents expect their new habits will stick after the pandemic wanes. 

The changes have included a shift from traditional in-person means of communication and information exchange to entirely digital platforms through medical websites. A physician based in Toronto characterized this current moment as an “opportunity to embrace new technologies to make medicine and healthcare more efficient and more tech-friendly.”

CDC to Regain Control of Data

Although the details remain unclear, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will regain control of COVID-19 reporting data, according to multiple sources. 

Data reported by hospitals is being “moved back to the CDC,” said Michael T. Osterholm, PhD, MPH, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) at the University of Minnesota, in an interview with Medscape Medical News today.  The agency, he said, “is in the process of updating their software to allow that to happen.” 

The Wall Street Journal is also reporting the shift. The publication notes that the White House came under fire last month when it switched hospital reporting data from the CDC to the Department of Health and Human Services. Deborah Birx, MD, the White House’s coronavirus coordinator, said a new data system is being assembled to support the shift of reporting back to the CDC.

Convalescent Blood Plasma on Hold

The US Food and Drug Administration has put a hold on an emergency use approval of convalescent blood plasma as a potential treatment for patients with COVID-19, according to a report from the New York Times. 

The move, which has not been announced officially by the agency, follows the release of data from a large US study last week showing possible responses in patients treated with plasma, but no clear-cut homerun with the approach. The FDA did not respond to a request for comment from Medscape Medical News before press time.

Have You Been Affected? 

As the global count of COVID-19 cases has surpassed 20 million and the US count recently passed 5 million, according to a data dashboard from Johns Hopkins University, Medscape wants to know the extent to which our readers have been affected. 

Please respond to our latest poll and tell us how you have been personally affected by the pandemic.

Female Leadership Better?

Although some might bristle at such generalizations, two new studies suggest that countries and states led by women are faring better in the pandemic than those with male leaders. 

Looking at data from 194 countries, an analysis from the University of Liverpool suggests that those led by women have been “systematically and significantly better” in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. The results “clearly indicate that women leaders reacted more quickly and decisively in the face of potential fatalities. In almost all cases, they locked down earlier than male leaders in similar circumstances,” one researcher said. 

Similarly, a state-level analysis in the US showed a similar trend. Between January and May, the nine states with women governors tended to have earlier stay-at-home orders and lower COVID-19 death rates than those with male governors. 

In Memoriam

As frontline healthcare workers care for patients with COVID-19, they commit themselves to difficult, draining work and also put themselves at risk for infection. Thousands throughout the world have died. 

Medscape has published a memorial list to commemorate them. We will continue updating this list as, sadly, needed. Please help us ensure this list is complete by submitting names with an age, profession or specialty, and location through this form

If you would like to share any other experiences, stories, or concerns related to the pandemic, please join the conversation here.

Rabiya S. Tuma, PhD, is an executive editor with Medscape Medical News. She has covered science and medicine for a variety of publications, including The Economist and The Journal of the National Cancer Institute. She can be reached at rtuma@medscape.net.

For more news, follow Medscape on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube, and follow Ellie Kincaid on Twitter @ellie_kincaid.

Here’s how to send Medscape a story tip.