Online calculator computes costs of testing and offers strategies for preventing infections in schools and businesses.
It can be an enormous challenge for schools and businesses to determine how to establish an effective COVID-19 testing program, particularly with the multiple testing options now on the market. An innovative online tool funded by the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB), part of the National Institutes of Health, helps organizations choose a COVID-19 testing strategy that will work best for their specific needs. The COVID-19 Testing Impact Calculator is a free resource that shows how different approaches to testing and other mitigation measures, such as mask use, can curb the spread of the virus in any organization. It is the first online tool in the nation to provide schools and businesses with clear guidance on risk-reducing behaviors and testing to help them stay open safely.
A team led by the Consortia for Improving Medicine with Innovation and Technology (CIMIT) at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, and researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, developed the tool to model the costs and benefits of COVID-19 testing strategies for individual organizations. The team developed their mathematical model and calculator as part of NIH’s Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADx) Tech program. The calculator is simple–a user enters a few specifics about their site and the tool produces customized scenarios for surveillance testing. The tool models four different COVID-19 testing methods, including onsite and lab-based, and calculates the number of people to test each day. It shows the estimated cost of each testing option and outlines the tradeoffs in the speed and accuracy of each kind of test.
“The NIH RADx initiative has enabled innovation and growth in the creation of new, rapid COVID-19 testing technologies,” said Bruce J. Tromberg, Ph.D., director of NIBIB and lead for the RADx Tech program. “Using this tool, school administrators and business owners can quickly evaluate the cost and performance of different tests to help find the best match for their unique organization.”
The COVID-19 Testing Impact Calculator also shows how other Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-recommended countermeasures, such as masks, contact tracing and social distancing, can work in concert with testing to keep people safe. Users enter which of these measures are in place in their organization and the tool integrates this information to produce testing recommendations. By adjusting these entries, users get a startling demonstration of how implementing simple countermeasures can drastically reduce their testing costs. For example, for a site that allows mask-less activities such as meetings or dining, reducing the group size on the calculator from 12 to six cuts the cost of the recommended testing strategy by more than half. Thus, the tool can inform leaders about how implementing these practices in addition to testing can keep their school or business open safely and with less expense.
Co-developer of the tool, Anette (Peko) Hosoi, Ph.D., is associate dean of engineering and the Neil and Jane Pappalardo Professor of Mechanical Engineering at MIT. She also is an affiliate of the university’s Institute for Data, Systems, and Society (IDSS), where students and researchers combine cutting-edge data analysis with social science methodology to tackle pressing societal challenges like the coronavirus pandemic.
“A false dichotomy is often perpetuated that we must either stop COVID or reopen the economy,” said Hosoi. “But we know a lot now about how this disease spreads and the answer is not an either/or proposition. We know what kinds of measures are necessary to keep things running and mitigate the spread while operating — maybe not under normal conditions, but certainly under functional conditions.”
Co-developer Paul Tessier, Ph.D., is product development director at CIMIT, the RADx Tech coordinating center. “The calculator is a major enabler for test-technologies being developed, commercialized and deployed with help from the RADx Tech program,” Tessier said. He explained that implementing a testing program carries weighty considerations, including cost and number of testing instruments, arranging for test takers, and determining the optimal frequency for testing. “We are excited to join forces with MIT’s IDSS to advance a decision-making tool for operating safely.”
The COVID-19 Testing Impact Calculator is at www.whentotest.org(link is external).
This project was funded by the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, National Institutes of Health, through the NIH RADx℠ Initiative via grant #U54EB015408 and contracts #75N92020P00132 and #75N92020P00171.
About the Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADxSM) initiative: The RADx initiative was launched on April 29, 2020, to speed innovation in the development, commercialization, and implementation of technologies for COVID-19 testing. The initiative has four programs: RADx Tech, RADx Advanced Technology Platforms, RADx Underserved Populations and RADx Radical. It leverages the existing NIH Point-of-Care Technology Research Network. The RADx initiative partners with federal agencies, including the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Health, Department of Defense, the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, and U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Learn more about the RADx initiative and its programs: https://www.nih.gov/radx.
About the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB): NIBIB’s mission is to improve health by leading the development and accelerating the application of biomedical technologies. The Institute is committed to integrating the physical and engineering sciences with the life sciences to advance basic research and medical care. NIBIB supports emerging technology research and development within its internal laboratories and through grants, collaborations, and training. More information is available at the NIBIB website: https://www.nibib.nih.gov.
About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation’s medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.