The plan that could give us our lives back

The wand that will accomplish this feat is a thin paper strip, no longer than a finger. It is a coronavirus test. Mina says that the U.S. should mass-produce these inexpensive and relatively insensitive tests—unlike other methods, they require only a saliva sample—in quantities of tens of millions a day. These tests, which can deliver a result in 15 minutes or less, should then become a ubiquitous part of daily life. Before anyone enters a school or an office, a movie theater or a Walmart, they must take one of these tests. Test negative, and you may enter the public space. Test positive, and you are sent home. In other words: Mina wants to test nearly everyone, nearly every day.

The tests Mina describes already exist: They are sitting in the office of e25 Bio, a small start-up in Cambridge, Massachusetts; half a dozen other companies are working on similar products. But implementing his vision will require changing how we think about tests. These new tests are much less sensitive than the ones we run today, which means that regulations must be relaxed before they can be sold or used. Their closest analogue is rapid dengue-virus tests, used in India, which are manufactured in a quantity of 100 million a year. Mina envisions nearly as many rapid COVID-19 tests being manufactured a day. Only the federal government, acting as customer and controller, can accomplish such a feat.

If it is an audacious plan, it has an audacious payoff. Mina claims that his plan could bring the virus to heel in the U.S. within three weeks. (Other epidemiologists aren’t as sure it would work—at least without serious downsides.) His plan, while costly, is one of the few commensurate in scale to the pandemic: Even if it costs billions of dollars to realize, the U.S. is already losing billions of dollars to the virus every day. More Americans are dying of the coronavirus every month, on average, than died in the deadliest month of World War II. Donald Trump has said that the U.S. is fighting a “war” against an “invisible enemy”; Mina simply asks that the country adopt a wartime economy.