One of the most important things we collectively need to harness and exploit in order to safely & effectively navigate through the pandemic is data. This is true of everyone – COVID researchers, testing labs, public health organizations, businesses, schools…you name it.
Epidemiology starts and ends with data-driven decision-making. From the first attempts to use data to track down cholera in London in the 1850’s through to the Johns Hopkins dashboard (at right, which in April was receiving about 1 billion hits per day), how we respond to health crises – including epidemics and pandemics – is wholly-dependent on data.
And data, of course, means testing.
It’s Still All About Testing.
LabVantage has worked with various research biobanks, testing labs, Fortune 500 companies and major university systems to ensure viral identification, containment and tracking can be successfully maintained. It’s no small task, and different organizations are approaching the job in different ways. There is – however – one common denominator: testing, and lots of it.
At present, PCR testing is the gold standard for COVID-19 detection, while antibody tests – which sacrifice detection accuracy – offer faster turnaround times. There is a role for both methodologies to play in a successful COVID-19 management strategy, often in combination with other measures (mask usage, social distancing rules, temperature checks, contact tracing, etc.).
Among the world’s biggest brands and organizations, testing can often be handled in-house. But even in our work over the last few months with Fortune 500 companies that have their own internal healthcare systems, many are not set up for the level of testing that may be necessary for a robust, proactive regimen. They often supplement their testing with external third-party clinical labs.
Data Management in the Time of COVID-19
The physical testing for COVID-19 (or SARS-COV-2 antibodies) is just one piece of a mitigation and control effort, however. There will be data for thousands of people – often with multiple test results – to deal with in a compliant and systematic way.
Data management is the cornerstone of COVID risk mitigation, but the ability to harness and leverage that data to control COVID is the ultimate objective.
This is Bigger Than a Spreadsheet.
Most labs or healthcare providers use some form of lab informatics – whether a LIMS (Laboratory Information Management System), a LIS (Laboratory Information System) or a similar platform. Some healthcare labs, however, still work in spreadsheets – hampering their ability to harness key data, consolidate disparate data sources, and integrate with other enterprise systems. [Learn more about lab digital transformation]
With a LIMS, labs can collect, securely store and work with the mass of data being generated. An effective platform is compliant with HIPAA and other privacy laws, ensures data integrity, and is secure. Equally as important, it is easy-to-use and intuitive – scaling to match your needs as they change.
Will Data Management & Constant Testing Make the Difference?
It is almost impossible to know what will happen next with COVID-19. Experts are predicting a surge this winter, though whether it will be isolated to certain regions or hotspots or more widespread remains unknown. We know that certain mitigation efforts (PPE, masks, hand washing, social distancing, etc.) have made a difference in the past when there has been widespread adoption.
We are in the midst of attempting to recapture some element of normalcy. People have returned to the workplace, though work-from-home has gained a much greater foothold. Primary, secondary and higher education has endeavored – with varying degrees of success – to get students back into classrooms. Sporting events, concerts and public gatherings have been restarted to some degree, though with numerous restrictions or modifications.
Some of these efforts to reclaim our previous lives have had no negative repercussions at all, while others have been disastrously unsuccessful. And while treatment modalities have improved since the first big wave hit the New York area back in March, some experts predict widespread vaccination won’t occur until late in 2021 at best. From the New York Times:
“Testing and producing a vaccine is a complex process with a lot of uncertainties. But the best guess for now, experts say, is this: If every aspect of the vaccines’ development and distribution goes exactly as planned — and history has shown that rarely happens — certain people in high-risk groups could get vaccinated this year. Most other Americans, however, will quite likely have to wait until well into next year.”
Abandoning the ‘Head in the Sand’ Approach to COVID-19
What has distinguished successful re-openings from calamitous health crises is a firm grasp of accurate, timely testing data, combined with in-place control strategies, and public acceptance and compliance.
The laissez faire, hands off approach to COVID is not viable from a public health perspective and has already had disastrous consequences around the country.
Nothing can replace the value of data and its ability to help decision-makers take timely, proactive steps to identify cases and control the spread. In the fight to make our lives somewhat normal this winter, preventative measures, testing data and planning are our best weapons.
Want to learn more about how LabVantage COVID-19 can help you strengthen pandemic risk mitigation and response? Here are some resources:
LabVantage COVID-19 LIMS
How to Manage COVID-19 Testing in the Workplace
LabVantage COVID-19 LIMS Overview