Coronavirus tests should be delivered to people’s homes using drones to cut the spread of the deadly infection, a study has suggested.
The proposal would see batches tests of tests ferried from centralised test facilities out the the public, allowing authorities to determine who needed to be quarantined.
At the same time, removing the need to visit testing facilities would minimise the risk of aiding the disease’s spread among the population in the process.
Researchers from Sweden modelling the impact of drone-based test delivery on a COVID-19 outbreak in a medium-size city.
They suggest that 36 drones each carrying 100 tests could visit everyone in such a city of population 100,000 inhabitants repeatedly every four days.
However, even running tests of individuals every 30 days, they said, ‘would flatten the curve quite significantly.’
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Coronavirus tests should be delivered to people’s homes using drones to cut the spread of the deadly infection, a study has suggested
The proactive screening of the general population for coronavirus infection — especially in the case of asymptomatic cases — has significant potential in helping to curb the spread of COVID-10, but implementing such would have its challenges.
‘Mass-testing may be seriously impeded by population’s fear of visiting testing facilities due to potentially high concentration of infection there,’ Leonid Sedov of Sweden’s Linköping University and colleagues wrote in their paper.
‘The fear is confirmed by health officials who advise against visiting hospitals “unless necessary”,’ they added.
‘The good news is that COVID-19 test does not have to be necessarily conducted at a designated facility.’
‘A possible solution is to use drones to distribute tests to the population as well as to collect the tests back, bringing them to laboratories.’
‘The test results could then be communicated back to people electronically, so that those with positive tests put themselves into quarantine.’
In their study, the researchers combined a model of drone-based test kit delivery with a standard susceptible–infected—recovered model of infectious disease spread, to which they added a fourth category of ‘quarantined’.
As a test case, the team imagined a lab for COVID-19 test processing that covered a certain area — specifically, the city of Norrköping, which has a single hospital from which the drone fleet would be deployed
The team assumed that all citizens would require testing — with repeated tests to catch infections that occurred after each round of tests.
The team then modelled the optimum drone routes and the impact on the epidemic based on drones of different cargo capacity that fly for 12 hours per day — as not to disturb people’s sleep — at 37 miles per hour (60 km/h).
‘We estimate that for a medium-size city with around 100,000 inhabitants […] 36 Switzerland Matternet drones each carrying 100 tests suffice to visit everyone once every 4 days,’ the researchers wrote.
They added, however, that their model suggests regular mass-testing of individuals even just every 30 days — which roughly amounts to randomly testing around 3.3 per cent of the population every day — ‘would flatten the curve quite significantly.’
The researcher’s model suggests regular mass-testing of individuals even just every 30 days — which roughly amounts to randomly testing around 3.3 per cent of the population every day — ‘would flatten the curve quite significantly’, as shown in pink above
The team then modelled the optimum drone routes and the impact on the epidemic based on drones of different cargo capacity that fly for 12 hours per day — as not to disturb people’s sleep — at 37 miles per hour (60 km/h)
‘Our work may help the authorities to quantify the lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic and utilise them during future epidemics,’ the team concluded.
‘More generally, our methods may be applied to any kind of mass delivery and collection — e.g., the drones may distribute immunity tests to release people from quarantine.’
However, the team note that a major obstacle to implementing drone-based test delivery — whether for infection or potential immunity — is a general lack of regulation around drone flights.
‘With a proactive thinking, the authorities could design sets of regulations with different levels of strictness,’ the team proposed.
‘In situations like epidemics, more lenient regulations could take force and let the drone operations rise to higher levels than during nominal course of events.’
‘The switch may be justified not only by the extreme social value of the drones use […] but also by the fact that during the (even partial) quarantine there are fewer people on the streets, which lowers the ground risk of drone operations.’
A pre-print of the researchers’ article, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, can be read on the medRXiv repository.