Omicron Question of the Day: What good is PCR testing that takes 2-3 days for a result?

One thing I love about SARS-CoV-2 is that the inevitable mutations enable me to ask the same questions over and over.

Suppose that Johnny starts feeling unwell after Art Basel. It takes him/her/zir/them a day or two to decide that it might be COVID and it is time to get tested. In a lot of states it might take at least one more day to arrange a test. After that, 2-3 days to get a result from the PCR toaster oven. Assuming a positive test, that puts Johnny 4-6 days after his/her/zir/their symptoms began when he/she/ze/they goes into isolation.

Let’s compare that to #Science. “COVID-19 Is Most Transmissible 2 Days Before, 3 DaysAfter Symptoms Appear” (Boston University/JAMA):

Each wave of the pandemic has underscored just how gravely contagious COVID-19 is, but there is less clarity among experts on exactly when—and to what extent—infected individuals are most likely to spread the virus.

Now, a new study co-led by a School of Public Health researcher has found that individuals infected with the virus are most contagious two days before, and three days after, they develop symptoms.

(They forgot to write “global pandemic”.)

In other words, by the time Johnny gets the PCR result, he/she/ze/they is mostly past the contagious phase. Wouldn’t the world have been far safer if we had a rule that anyone who is sick in any way has to be isolated (or, if unvaccinated, euthanized)?

I recently parked in a garage in Florida that has been converted into the world’s loneliest drive-through COVID-19 testing facility (there is hardly any COVID left in Florida).

After $10 trillion in COVID-related federal spending, how long to get a result in a state with hardly anyone infected? “Two to three days,” said the helpful lady who was checking the non-existent customers in. (I went back and forth to the car a few times and never saw anyone come in to be tested; about 6 people seemed to be working at this facility.)

Readers: Please explain to me under what circumstance this kind of PCR test has a practical value.

20 thoughts on “Omicron Question of the Day: What good is PCR testing that takes 2-3 days for a result?

  1. For the deplorables a positive PCR test could be valuable because it is the equivalent of a vaccination passport, at least for 6 months or so. I never understood why (in Europe) people go to such lengths to fake vaccination passports, it is so much easier to just print a positive PCR test. All I got for my positive test was an editable PDF, no qr codes or anything required.

  2. Here in California, we’re always given the same two-to-three-day time frame, but we’ve always had results by the next morning. How long did it actually take to get your results?

    We use at-home test kits, too. They’re perfectly good at detecting COVID-19 at levels where it is contagious, and they only take fifteen minutes to give results. We get the PCR tests mostly because the school system requires them. But to decide whether to quarantine, at-home tests are great. At least the FDA has gotten out of the way and allowed them.

    • The last two tests that I had were at CVS. One was taken at 12:39 PM and came back two days later at 5:20 AM. The other was taken at 12:12 PM and came back two days later at 9:12 AM. Both were at CVS (but in different states).

  3. I believe I posted a bird brained comment on this very blog almost 2 years ago that testing for covid made no sense because most people will end up getting covid. I still feel that way!

  4. If the entry rules to any indoor event allow the vaccinated, the recovered, and the PCR tested, only the unvaccinated will be tested.

    So PCR tests have the function of “proving” that 90% of the verified case numbers are among the unvaccinated, which is what politicians want to hear.

    Separately, Omicron appears to be a milder variant. Should we thank South Africa for a low vaccination rate that allowed this mutation to happen and hope that it spreads everywhere?

  5. The only places I can see PCR being valuable are:

    1) Pre-hospital entry screening. Get your PCR test 3 days in advance of entry, if it comes back positive you can’t come in. BTDT six times in the past 18 months.

    2) Confirmation of rapid testing under the “Test To Stay” program in Massachusetts schools. Your kid tests positive with a rapid antigen test that is administered once a day. PCR is used to confirm the result.

    3) Mandatory weekly testing to go along with mandatory masking, like Oregon is going to do. Their 180-day emergency masking order is running out so they are rewriting it to make masking mandatory and permanent. They should throw in once-a-week PCR mandatory testing also so that the entire population is tested at least once a week.

    Everyone should have RFID chips in their necks to register each test, the test type, their local and national jurisdiction, travel history, medical visit history, and so forth.

    It’s obvious we’re only going to control the virus by controlling the potential hosts – each and every one of them – with technology and enforcement. There’s no escape.

    • And there is no other way. Dr. Rochelle Walensky is worried that Americans are becoming “numb to COVID.”

      Well, when Americans become “numb” to COVID, that means we’re not applying enough pressure. Numbness is no excuse, and as we know, the government can apply an infinite amount of pressure in a public health emergency. They effectively own your body for the purposes of preventing contagion. Even Alan Dershowitz knows that they can bust down the door, march into your home, drag you away to a hospital and plunge a needle into your arm. Cramer from CNBC thinks the military should run vaccinations, just like that helicopter movie you reviewed.

      So no more of this sissy stuff. Do it right! I think the Biden Administration and the T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Johns Hopkins need to get on the same page with the DoD and get the job DONE before we piss another $10 trillion dollars away. It’s the only thing that makes sense. Some Americans may disagree, but they can be rounded up. Most people shut up real fast when you drive a Humvee with a mounted machine gun into their driveway! They talk tough, but that goes right out the window when they see the firepower up close.

    • Alex: They’ll literally still say this when Covid-19 has mutated to another common cold strain. Be vigilant!

    • @Anonymous: Of course they will! That’s the plan! SARS-CoV-2 is an endemic virus, but more importantly it is the vehicle to establish a new Public Health control regime. The decision has already been made, in my mind. One death is too many! It’s just as MIT Technology Review said: “We are never going back to normal.” And we are going to accept a completely new way of life, intrusive surveillance and government control as a “small price to pay” for the basic freedom to be with other people. It’s a New World Order, my friend. All the technocrats want it like the Holy Grail.

      A toast to your health!

    • We can’t afford to spend another $10 trillion fighting COVID, so all this stuff has to come to a lasting resolution with no half-measures pretty quickly now. We’re going to need that $10 Trillion to fight the war in Ukraine and to defend our allies in the Pacific when the Chinese invade Taiwan. If Putin and Xi put their heads together, they can get us all screwed up in two hemispheres at once with a raging pandemic still going on in the middle of a winter.

      So get ready to rumble!

    • @Alex said: “BTDT six times in the past 18 months.” Glad that you’re still here. May you not have to go to hospitals in the future!

  6. I’m in the office once a week with 5-6 coworkers. The office fits 50 people in pre global pandemic time. We have to test once a week due to education nature of our organization, but we are IT and don’t interact with students.

    Anyway I drop self test in the morning, work grueling 8 hours wearing mask and usually get test results one day later.

    The benefits: occasionally we get email from HR stating that there was a positive individual on certain date and him/her/zer/zem was in the following building on that day. This is it.

    P.S. at least half of my coworkers added pronouns to Slack profiles and email signature.

  7. I do not understand why it takes 2-3 days to get the results of PCR test. I live in Ecuador. I flew to the United States several weeks ago. The airline required a negative PCR test result from a test administered no more than 72 hours before departure. The airport had a testing station. The result was available 45 minutes after the test was administered. The cost was $35. Upon returning to Ecuador I took yet another test in the US – same airline with the same requirements. I went to a drive-through testing site. The cost was $130 and the result was emailed to me later that day. As far as the usefulness of these tests goes, I have no idea. Most of the requirements imposed on us to protect us from Covid seem to be theater for the benefit of our rulers.

  8. Testing benefits the infected (as in common cold vs covid) since it informs future testing/vaccination strategy. I.e. it’s stupid to take booster if you just had covid.

    PS I think it’s time to stop capitalizing covid and make it a regular noun.

    • SK: If we are engaged with a powerful enemy, shouldn’t the enemy’s name be capitalized? Covid, COVID (better yet since the enemy is shouting in all CAPS), Delta, Omicron. These are the foes against whom our public health experts bravely sally forth (while staying safely home on Zoom, of course). Don’t our foes merit personification and therefore capitalization?

  9. Iceland has it worked out. I was there a few weeks ago and needed a PCR test to return to Canada. There is a central location in Reykjavik where they do all the testing. You make an online appointment, show up with a barcode, Qtip up the nose, in and out in 5 minutes. I received the results by email 6 hours later.

    • Thanks, Randall. After $10 trillion spent in a society that says testing is critical, this is the kind of thing that I would have expected to see in the U.S. Strip mall testing centers with a couple of technicians and some PCR machines. Shopping mall midway testing with PCR machines in a corner of the mall. Operation Warp Speed for a completely automated robot tester (swab in one end; email and text messages out the other; maybe the former Theranos engineers could be drafted to build this!).

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