Testing The ‘Rona

I have spent the last few days angry and I expect it will continue. This government was, until yesterday, insisting that schools return for education and school stuff in the new year. This is while this country is ravaged by Covid-19. The numbers do not look good. The virus is rampant and the spike after christmas jolities will occur in a week when, once again, the government will act as though they don’t understand a two week delay to everything they introduce. They are incompetent and have been. They lack the balls and empathy to do the right thing. I hear people say it must be difficult for people in charge and while I agree with that sentiment I feel those people are largely trying to find an excuse to forgive the tories from their utter ineptitude. The current bunch of politicians in charge of this country – and voted for by most of the country – are selfish pricks who don’t care about anything other than themselves.

There has been an insistence that schools must stay open whatever is happening and that education is really important. Wow. Given the lack of investment in schools and education over the last twelve years I’m surprised at this attitude. Maybe tories just don’t like their children and do everything they can to get them out of the house. I haven’t had a real term pay rise for over twelve years. Education has been underfunded for over twelve years. Just like the NHS the tories haven’t invested because of their policy of austerity over the last fucking decade.

So we should keep schools open but we don’t get the funding to do so. It’s like there is a belief that we should teach a fixed amount to the children and then test that “learning” or the whole system will fail. I don’t understand this rigid thought process. I can solve this now. Let teachers grade their pupils over the next two years. Cancel public examinations. Remove all forms of accountability by exam results. Let teachers give realistic grades to their students as a measure of how they have progressed and learnt over the last while. This removes the need for examinations, removes the need for all pupils to have learnt the same things and removes the need for keeping schools “open”. To be clear, when schools are closed the education is still happening. Teachers have upskilled immensely over the last year to do their best to deliver their passions and subjects online. Pupils motivation and parental support are always the biggest inhibitors to education – not what the schools or teachers do.

So, I’ve “fixed” education for you. Now you can put in policy to maintain the health of the nation and ensure that we work together to end this pandemic and get the disease under control. It is criminal that the number of deaths is as high as it is. The sheer ineptitude of the government should be enough to cause a revolution but that won’t happen in this country and that makes me sad. I don’t think there will be any accountability of this government for the deaths and illness. I think in four years when we have the next election there will be enough selfish people in this country to vote the tories back in. I am largely ashamed to live in such a selfish and racist country.

So, to testing. That is the point of this communication. I’ve read about testing for covid and I’ve decided to write this to get some handle on what it all means. This writing in my way of processing the information. So, some things to say first. There are different types of test and they aren’t all the same. If you test and get a positive it is likely you have the disease. If you test negative though it does not mean you are clear. Let’s see why. Testing relies on the virus replicating in your body enough so that there is lots of it in your saliva or snot. When you breathe or cough you expel tiny droplets and these are then absorbed by someone else, this is how this virus transmits. Also, we could leave virus particles on surfaces and other people then touch those surfaces and their mucus membranes. The current tests rely on either swabbing to see if your viral load is high or blood tests to see if you have developed blood cells that fight the disease.

The PCR test is the most accurate but takes time and money. They are almost 100% accurate if you have the disease. The false negative rate is low as long as you have some symptoms. It could be that you are infected but in the early stages and we know that it can take UP TO fourteen days for symptoms to first show. Therefore any negative doesn’t mean you are clear. All other types of Covid test are compared to PCR testing as it is highly accurate.

The Lateral Flow quick test has been hailed by the government and I suspect is the one being rolled out to schools for some fucking reason. Let’s look at the numbers involved with this test. Because it all comes down to probability and getting the numbers correct. The sensitivity [detecting the virus if you have it] ranges from 79% to 49% when those administering the tests range from laboratory scientists to tests performed by self-administration. We will use these numbers shortly.

The specificity of the lateral flow test [telling you that you are infected when you aren’t] runs at 0.4%. More accurately the specificity of the lateral flow test is 99.6%, it is a measure of how accurate the test is at being doubly wrong. So, if you aren’t infected there is a very good chance that you will get a negative result and only 0.4% of people who aren’t infected will be told they have the disease.

However, if you do have the ‘rona then the probabilities look far worse. The lateral flow test will miss around 50% of those people and declare them negative. This quite clearly shows that a negative result doesn’t mean you are negative. It doesn’t mean you can go visit grandma and it doesn’t mean you can go out. I’ve just read from UCL that up to 86% of carriers of SARS-Cov-2 virus might be asymptomatic. You need to have symptoms for the lateral flow test to work (ish), the lateral flow test will miss half of those infected and the rate is even worse if they are self-administered. This is not good news.

I’ve done some number crunching and it looks as though the probability of you testing negative even though you have the ‘rona could be as high as 25% [50% in some cases]. Oddly, maybe, this is an example of probability I teach sixth formers although I have to say I normally use the concept of a “terrorist detector” to show how immigration policies are bullshit. So, this all means that the government policy of using Lateral FLow Tests in large scale population preemptive testing is bollocks and won’t work. Just like everything else they have done this virus reaction won’t do what they think it will and be a waste of time and money and lives. If only they had paid attention to the Italians, Koreans and such like in the early days.

We all have a right to be very angry about the government’s response to this pandemic. We can acknowledge that it must be tough at the top but we can also acknowledge that they are doing an amazingly shit job of it. We are suffering and people are dying [500 a day] because the British public voted in a bunch of self-obsessed selfish losers who think it is their right to govern when, in reality, they are the worst possible group of people to lead us through this crisis. Fuck them.

I read a few articles to get this information but these were the main ones. Horizon Magazine of the EU research centre and also this one from UK Patient Site along with this one from the BMJ.