- Bill Gates is funding a new disease surveillance program called SCAN that delivers at-home coronavirus tests to people in Seattle to detect cases of COVID-19.
- SCAN is not meant to replace widespread testing, but by taking a sample of sick and healthy people, the program could become a helpful tool for monitoring the spread of the virus.
- Seattle residents can sign up to participate in SCAN online.
- Visit BGR’s homepage for more stories.
In 2015, Bill Gates told us that we weren’t ready for the next epidemic. Five years later, his fears have been realized, as the novel coronavirus pandemic has now infected more than 4.2 million people and killed nearly 300,000. Although he might not have been able to convince us to prepare for a highly contagious virus, Gates is now doing what he can to mitigate its effects, mostly by investing a ton of money in vaccine research and development.
Unfortunately, even if we find a safe, effective vaccine for SARS-CoV-2, chances are that it won’t be ready for mass production until next year at the earliest, which is why Gates isn’t stopping at spending billions on factories. In a blog post this week, Gates introduced a new disease surveillance program in Seattle that will help the city detect COVID-19 cases, and hopefully provide information that can be applied in other areas around the world.
“The greater Seattle Coronavirus Assessment Network—or SCAN—is a first-of-its-kind disease surveillance platform for COVID-19 that allows participants to use a self-swab test to collect their own nasal samples and send them to a lab without leaving home,” Gates explains in a comprehensive blog post about the program.
The goal of SCAN is not to test everyone in Seattle, but rather to gather data from people who are healthy and those that are feeling sick to “paint a clearer picture of how COVID-19 is moving through the community, who is at greatest risk, and whether physical distancing measures are working.”
Testing symptomatic patients has been the priority in the United States ever since the pandemic began, but we know now that a significant portion of the infected population is asymptomatic. By testing a significant sample of people in a region without setting any limits on who can be tested, we’ll have a better understanding of just how many people are getting infected without ever knowing they caught the virus in the first place.
As intriguing as the program is, the at-home test kits are sure to draw attention as well. Seattle residents that want to participate in SCAN can enroll online, and once they are approved, a nasal swab test will be delivered directly to their homes. Once the test has been completed, a courier service will pick up the package and return it to SCAN. Anyone who tests positive will be notified by a public health worker, but results can also be accessed online.
SCAN is currently testing 300 people per day, but the network is looking to scale up testing in the coming weeks. We are fascinated to see how the data is used as states around the country begin to reopen.