Testing half the population weekly with inexpensive, rapid-turnaround COVID-19 tests would drive the virus toward elimination within weeks, according to a new study published in the journal Science Advances.
Such a strategy could lead to personalised stay-at-home orders without shutting down restaurants, bars, retail stores and schools, the authors said.
The study used mathematical modelling to forecast the impact of screening with different kinds of tests on three hypothetical scenarios: in 10,000 individuals; in a university-type setting of 20,000 people; and in a city of 8.4 million.
When it came to curbing spread, they found that frequency and turnaround times were much more important than test sensitivity.
In one scenario in a large city, widespread twice-weekly testing with a rapid but less sensitive test reduced the R0 by 80 per cent. Twice-weekly testing with PCR reduced infectiousness by only 58 per cent.
In another scenario, in which 4 per cent of individuals in a city were already infected, rapid testing three out of four people every three days reduced the number infected by 88 per cent which, the authors said, was "sufficient to drive the epidemic toward extinction within six weeks".