Test Sensitivity for Infection versus Infectiousness of SARS-CoV-2
The most commonly used test for the presence of SARS-CoV-2 is a PCR test that is able to detect very low viral loads and inform on treatment decisions. Medical research has confirmed that many individuals might be infected with SARS-CoV-2 but not infectious. Knowing whether an individual is infectious is the critical piece of information for a decision to isolate an individual or not. This paper examines the value of different tests from an information-theoretic approach and shows that applying treatment-based approval standards for tests for infection will lower the value of those tests and likely causes decisions based on them to have too many false positives (i.e., individuals isolated who are not infectious). The conclusion is that test scoring be tailored to the decision being made.
Thanks to Laura Rosella, Jakub Steiner and Alex Tabarrok for useful comments. Responsibility for all views expressed and errors made lies with the author. The views expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.