COVID-19 testing is the bottleneck in managing the pandemic. Can we open-source testing?

People in East Asia learnt from SARS, that open knowledge networks across society are the best way to enable people to contextually coordinate and adapt to a pandemic. Opaque decisions informing a command-and-control attitude cost lives and increase the dangers associated with broad interventions from above. I have indicated here and here why this is the case and how the UK’s current trajectory has not learnt from success stories like South Korea.

In summary, the UK government (i) has yet to attempt a containment strategy that saves lives and is using a prolonged herd immunity strategy and, (ii) is heavily restricting testing and only allowing it to take place in hospitals where many other people with underlying conditions may come in contact with infected people. Without widespread testing containment cannot occur.

So let’s not wait for the UK government and start with this question of testing.

The Open Source community is running a lively facebook group of 29,000+ people and has a live document detailing open-source information for various medical supplies related to COVID-19. However, I have yet to find a significant attempt to apply open source principles to testing. (Also where is the biohacking movement when you need them?)

The main limitation is that certain equipment such as RT-PCR machines are required to do the testing. However, such equipment can often be found lying around in Universities or private laboratories. The reagents, primers probes etc.. needed are available commercially as well as biosafety guidelines to avoid contamination. It has been reported that most testing takes a few days, however, some clinics in the US have reported developing a method that takes 2 hours.

The open-source community could develop a menu and recipe to combine these, along with a basic plan for putting together a ‘biosafe drive-through testing hub’. Leaders of labs and universities could then set these up across the UK. This would be step one toward people self-organising to contain this pandemic as their government whilst the government goes ahead with its morbid strategy.

If people can get this in place, only then can people use apps to start (i) open-source contact tracing (ii) develop the massive UK mutual aid network into community councils who can manage a neighbourhood approach to containment (learning from China’s issues with chain reactions and grid lockdowns) and then together we will have contained this pandemic. This might seem like a pipe-dream, but only last month what we have today was unimaginable.

What you can do?

Do you know a microbiologist? Are you working at a university or private lab? Have a conversation about this. Bring it to the attention of your leadership? Bring what you learn to the Open Source community. You can start with posting what you learn below or better on the OS Medical Supplies facebook group.

UPDATE: 1# It has been noted to me that the capacity of the equipment in universities and private labs is low, but it is not inconceivable that they could be harnessed. For example if enough private labs and universities across the country set up a network and activated at the same time testing would be spread out. If made mobile on the back of lorries, then these mini-labs could then also be concentrated in sites of heavy contagion.