Dr. Sung Yang on Rapid and Accurate COVID-19 Testing

Dr. Yang Waikiki Hawaii

January 10, 2021

Dr. Sung Yang
  • Dr. Sung Yang is a physician with over 15 years of experience and a private practice owner working in Waikiki, Hawaii. Some of his many areas of expertise are diabetes, high blood pressure, weight loss, dementia, and non-invasive pain management. However, as the COVID-19 pandemic has progressed by causing hospitalization, deaths, and challenging economic conditions, Dr. Sung Yang has been working to help his community by developing more effective ways to deal with this threat.  We sat down with Dr. Sung Yang to discuss his ideas. Here’s what we learned.

 

Rapid COVID Testing as it Stands

By November of 2020, the news of the rapid COVID testing projects had spread far and wide. Dr. Sung Yang explained that the idea behind the rapid test was to make it possible for more people to be tested, in groups, at checkpoints, entry points to airports and stadiums while significantly reducing the waiting time for the test results. The goal would be to make the testing easier for people—cheaper and faster and just as accurate as of the main genetic test for COVID-19 so that we can return to our normal activities and revive the economy.

Ideally, the tests would be fast, painless, cheap, and deliver rapid results. To work well, Dr. Sung Yang says it would have to be effective in a situation similar to, “[…] a subway entry point or queue at an amusement park. People should be able to be effectively “scanned” for the virus and results should be instant like a contactless thermometer.  People should be able to be tested without interrupting their day to day activities.”

However, the tests suffer from an accuracy problem. Dr. Sung Yang says that if a patient is showing symptoms, then the test can deliver verifiable results. But if an asymptomatic carrier is tested, then the results are something of a crapshoot.

 With an asymptomatic patient, it’s like trying to catch butterflies with your eyes closed,” Dr. Sung Yang said.

 Even while asymptomatic the virus could be present inside the nose or lungs the tests may fail to detect the virus. Then that person could go on to spread the virus and never know it. Center for Disease Control believes that most of the infections are actually spread by asymptomatic healthy individuals who go about their daily activities.

 

The Types of COVID Tests

There are three types of COVID test in circulation at this time. Simply, they are the Genetic test, the Antigen test, and the Antibody test.

 

Dr. Sung Yang explains that the Genetic test is the most accurate diagnostic test for COVID-19 whether the result is positive or negative and therefore most commonly used in the U.S. and other countries.  However, the Genetic test produces results much more slowly up to 3 to 7 days.  

The Antigen test is cheap and fast by producing results in less than 15 minutes but the results are questionable if the patient has no symptoms or if the test result is negative.  If the Antigen test is positive the result is accurate but if the Antigen test is negative the Genetic test has to be done as well to confirm that the test is truly negative.  Therefore, the Antigen test is most useful in high risk and high exposure group settings such as long care facilities, nursing homes, and hospitals to quickly isolate the positive COVID-19 patients from the negative COVID-19 patients to prevent widespread transmission.  

The Antibody test looks for antibodies produced by the immune system when stimulated by the presence of the virus in the body.   The Antibody Test is also relatively cheap and quick like the Antigen test.  However, the Antibody test cannot distinguish between past resolved infection from current active infection.  The test result is questionable if the result is either negative or positive.  Dr. Sung Yang does not recommend the Antibody test for the diagnosis of COVID-19.  The Antibody test has only limited use in very special clinical scenarios.  

Therefore, the Genetic test is still the best test to diagnose COVID-19 in all scenarios and then the Antigen test is the second-best especially for the high-risk large group scenarios.

Dr. Sung Yang continues to educate the community about the proper use of each diagnostic test and combine the use of the Genetic test with the Antigen test for patients in different clinical scenarios while minimizing the use of the Antibody test.