Someone should have been asking this question a long time ago.
The most common test for COVID-19 is called a PCR test, which cycles a specimen a number of times to amplify the material in the sample and then gives a yes/no answer.
It’s very useful because it’s accurate, but it’s missing a key component. While the PCR test clearly identifies people who are carrying the virus, the test doesn’t tell us how much of the virus a person has. This is critical because the higher the viral load in a person’s system, the more likely they are to get sick themselves as well as infect others.
The problem is that many PCR tests use 40 cycles or more to amplify the samples, which allows the tests to detect COVID even when the carriers have such a light viral load they won’t get sick and won’t infect others.
The New York Times reported:
In three sets of testing data that include cycle thresholds, compiled by officials in Massachusetts, New York and Nevada, up to 90 percent of people testing positive carried barely any virus.
Dr. Michael Mina, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said the cycles used for detection should be set much lower, at say 30 cycles, which would require the viral load to be 100 times to 1,000 times greater for detection. It’s possible such a change would eliminate millions of positive cases across the country, eliminating much of the need for quarantines and other measures used to stop the virus from spreading once a person tests positive.