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Impact of baseline cases of cough and fever on UK COVID-19 diagnostic testing rates: estimates from the Bug Watch community cohort study

By Max T Eyre, Rachel Burns, Victoria Kirkby, Catherine Smith, Spiros Denaxas, Vincent Nguyen, Andrew Hayward, Laura Shallcross, Ellen Fragaszy, Robert W Aldridge

Posted 05 Sep 2020
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.09.03.20187377

Background: Diagnostic testing forms a major part of the UK's response to the current COVID-19 pandemic with tests offered to people with a continuous cough, high temperature or anosmia. Testing capacity must be sufficient during the winter respiratory season when levels of cough and fever are high due to non-COVID-19 causes. This study aims to make predictions about the contribution of baseline cough or fever to future testing demand in the UK. Methods: In this analysis of the Bug Watch prospective community cohort study, we estimated the incidence of cough or fever in England in 2018-2019. We then estimated the COVID-19 diagnostic testing rates required in the UK for baseline cough or fever cases for the period July 2020-June 2021. This was explored for different rates of the population requesting tests and four second wave scenarios and then compared to current national capacity. Results: The baseline incidence of cough or fever in the UK is expected to rise rapidly from 154,554 (95%CI 103,083 - 231,725) cases per day in August 2020 to 250,708 (95%CI 181,095 - 347,080) in September, peaking at 444,660 (95%CI 353,084 - 559,988) in December. If 80% of baseline cough or fever cases request tests, average daily UK testing demand would exceed current capacity for five consecutive months (October 2020 to February 2021), with a peak demand of 147,240 (95%CI 73,978 - 239,502) tests per day above capacity in December 2020. Conclusions: Our results show that current national COVID-19 testing capacity is likely to be exceeded by demand due to baseline cough and fever alone. This study highlights that the UK's response to the COVID-19 pandemic must ensure that a high proportion of people with symptoms request tests, and that testing capacity is immediately scaled up to meet this high predicted demand.

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