Why Taiwan hasn’t implemented universal COVID-19 screening: false positives would overwhelm medical resources

If universal screening for COVID-19 were implemented, people who tested positive, but who are not sick, would vastly overwhelm resources available for people who actually need them, according to experts at Tunghai University.

SETN reports that The Department of Applied Physics at Tunghai University posted on Facebook that no matter how powerful the testing technology is, there will always be false positives, as well as false negatives.

Statistics applied, even assuming the accuracy of the test method is so high that the rate of false negative were just 1%, out of every 3,000 people tested, 30 false negative patients would be left out in the community to spread the infection to others.

If the false positive rate is just one per cent, and 297,000 people of Taiwan’s population of 23 million were tested, 2,970 people would test positive. With just 1,100 negative pressure isolation ward beds available, the nation’s medical system would be overloaded with people who are not sick taking up hospital beds.

The post also associated high mortality rates with “medical overload.” In places with the highest mortality rates, a large number of patients who tested positive flooded into hospitals, overwhelming hospital resources, creating a situation where people who required care were deprived of it, and died.

The post then suggested that due to the current low true positive rate, starting large-scale testing would constitute pressing the “medical system self-destruct” button.

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One thought on “Why Taiwan hasn’t implemented universal COVID-19 screening: false positives would overwhelm medical resources

  • April 6, 2020 at 9:19 am

    Medical overload would be avoided by isolating asymptomatic positive results rather than hospitalization. If infected, transmission is avoided. If a false positive, no harm done.

    The concern that false negatives are free to infect in the community is also true of those individuals if they are not tested at all as would be the case now.
    If an individual receives a negative result whether false or positive they are not more likely to have any false sense of safety as future infection is still on the table.

    On the other hand not having the data from mass testing means tracking community spread is hamstrung if possible at all.
    From the reasons given, it doesn’t make sense to not have mass testing!


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