Using the right tool for a task is more efficient and usually gets better results. Testing is an essential tool to help control the spread of COVID-19, but it’s not the only tool in our toolbox. Some of the tools we have can be used by each of us every day. Others help us with a specific task for people with defined needs. What are our pandemic control tools and how do they fit together to help us slow the spread of COVID-19 infection?
Diagnostic testing - Testing is used to confirm a COVID-19 diagnosis, usually for people with symptoms of COVID-19, even mild ones, and their close contacts. Knowing your own test result helps you take care of your own health, but testing alone doesn’t help us control a pandemic. Both contact tracing and isolation or quarantine have to go hand-in-hand with testing.
Remember that a test result is just a snapshot in time. It tells us that a person was or wasn’t infected when the sample was collected. Without continuing preventive actions, someone who tests negative today can still get infected tomorrow and spread the virus to others.
Contact tracing - This strategy involves contacting people diagnosed with COVID-19 and their close contacts so that they can safely separate themselves from other people to stop the spread of further infection.
Isolation and quarantine - These two actions separate people who are ill or have been exposed to COVID-19 from others so that the disease doesn’t spread even further. Quarantine is for people who don’t have symptoms but were exposed to the sickness and may be infectious. Isolation is for people who are already sick. It keeps infected people away from healthy people. Both strategies involve staying home or in another safe location away from others for a set period of time.
And don’t forget the prevention tools that we can all use every day to protect ourselves and others:
- Social distancing - These actions limit close, face-to-face contact, which can put you near enough to inhale droplets when an infected person sneezes, coughs, or talks. COVID-19 is mainly spread by close contact.
- Everyday preventive actions - Along with social distancing, these are steps that each of us can take every day to help slow the spread of COVID-19. When communities do them together, they can make a significant difference in preventing widespread disease and death.
- Wear face coverings in public spaces.
- Wash hands frequently.
- Clean high touch surfaces regularly.
To effectively control the pandemic, we need to use all of these tools together. Individual, preventive actions like hand washing, keeping physical distance and wearing a face covering will allow us to keep the case counts low so that the other tools can be effective and further closures won’t be necessary.