Exclusive — Dr. Irwin Redlener: Businesses Need Fast ‘Point-of-Care’ Coronavirus Testing Because We Might Not Get a Vaccine or ‘Sustained Immunity’

A woman walks by a closed barber shop and shoe and watch repair store on May 5, 2020 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Angela Weiss / AFP) (Photo by ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images)
ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images

Dr. Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University, called for the development of fast, reliable, and affordable coronavirus testing technology at businesses in order to safely reopen the economy and give the public the peace of mind it needs to resume consumer activity.

“If we want to get back to work, I don’t understand how we’re going to do that, actually, without being able to test regularly, reliably, point-of-care, and rapidly get the results back in a few minutes,” Redlener told SiriusXM host Rebecca Mansour on Tuesday’s edition of Breitbart News Tonight.

Redlener’s recommendation was made during a discussion about new research into the coronavirus’ mutations that casts doubt on our ability to develop a successful vaccine or achieve sustained immunity.


Mansour highlighted the preliminary report of a new study led by scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory revealing the emergence of a dominant strain of the novel coronavirus that appears to be more contagious than earlier versions. According to the study’s summary, 14 mutations of the virus have thus far been identified, and these mutations “may confer selective advantages in transmission or resistance to interventions.” The dominant new strain appeared in Europe in February and migrated to the East Coast of the United States. The report warns that this strain could allow the virus to spread faster and may lead to repeat infections, as people could become sick with the new strain of the virus after recovering from a prior infection.

The Los Angeles Times reported:

Scientists with major organizations working on a vaccine or drugs to combat the coronavirus have told The Times that they are pinning their hopes on initial evidence that the virus is stable and not likely to mutate the way the influenza virus does, requiring a new vaccine every year. The Los Alamos report could upend that assumption.

Even if the new strain is no more dangerous than the others, it could still complicate efforts to bring the pandemic under control. That would be an issue if the mutation makes the virus so different from earlier strains that people who have immunity to them would not be immune to the new version.

If that is indeed the case, it could make “individuals susceptible to a second infection,” the study authors wrote.

“This is one of the more disconcerting articles that’s appeared in the last few weeks,” said Redlener. “It’s coming from a very, very reputable lab.”

Noting that the study has not yet been subjected to peer view, Redlener described its findings — taken at face value — as “the stuff that makes my hair stand on end.”

“This is a very, very strange virus, and that has led to a lot of challenges for the world’s scientists, not just American scientists,” noted Redlener. “The entire international community is trying to figure out much more than we currently know about this particular virus, how it behaves and what to expect. The fact that it’s mutating, everybody expected. If it mutates to something that makes it extremely difficult — if not impossible — to make an effective vaccine, that’s not something anybody would have been hoping for — or actually expecting — although there are always whispers of that being a possibility.”

Redlener continued, “The second thing is that there are a lot of people now in labs — mostly in major medical centers — that are doing not just testing for the presence of the virus, but for antibodies that people produce if they’re exposed to the virus. I was going to say the assumption — let’s just say the hope — is that people that have the antibodies will be actually immune to a second infection, unless of course, it’s dramatically mutated, and that they’ll be immune for a significant period of time.”

However, he explained long-term immunity to the coronavirus is still uncertain.

“It’s totally possible — but it’s not inevitable — that we’ll get sustainable immunity,” said Redlener. “In other words, we may have immunity that lasts two or three months, and then those antibodies won’t work anymore, or the virus to which we developed the immunity will mutate and no longer be susceptible to being killed off by those particular antibodies. Unfortunately, all of this remains on the table.”

Redlener explained that “one of the things we do know” is that we need fast and reliable testing.

“We need to have testing that’s at point-of-care,” he said. “And this may sound preposterous to you, but I actually would like my barber to have an inexpensive machine that can give results in five minutes — which we have the technology to do — that will tell me that, at least at the beginning of my barber’s shift, he did not have COVID. I would like to know that.”

Mansour asked if Abbott Laboratories’s development and distribution of coronavirus antibody blood tests would work for point-of-contact screening.

“Maybe,” Redlener replied. “Remember, that’s the toaster-sized device that was demonstrated a couple weeks ago, but there have now been some reports of a lot of false positives and negatives with that. So those are not good. If somebody says you’re positive — you’ve got antibodies — or if [they say] you have the virus and you don’t, or if they say you don’t have it and you actually do have it, you become a point of contact and spread.”

“So there’s a certain level of what’s called sensitivity and specificity — it means false negatives and false positives that become intolerable — and I just think for the United States not to have the capacity, the expertise, and the competence to have developed this a long time ago is one of those things that’s going to be analyzed and analyzed over and over again in the future. But for right now we don’t have the technology that we need,” Redlener stated.

He noted that Germany currently has technology like this and that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration “is now in the process of evaluating almost 400 different kinds of tests from different labs and manufacturers.”

Redlender framed his recommendations in a microeconomic context. “There have always been economic concerns about a major pandemic, but those concerns are usually and often expressed in macroeconomic terms. In other words, ‘The stock market’s been a crazy rollercoaster, the GDP is up and down, and all kinds of economic indicators — including employment — are moving around all over the place.'”

“But that’s not the economy that we’re talking about while we’re talking about reopening businesses,” continued Redlener. “There, we’re talking about the microeconomy, where we’re saying to people, ‘We need to get back to work because you need to be back to work.’ It’s not because it’s going to affect the stock market. It’s because we understand you need to pay your rent and cover your expenses, and you live in the world where many, many millions of people in the United States and billions of people around the world have to have their regular income, and if they don’t, the local economies collapse, stores close, people are really stuck with their living expenses, and so on.”

Fast and reliable coronavirus testing at businesses is the key to safely reopening the economy, Redlener explained, pointing to a report he co-authored at the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University.

“We put out a report last week from my center, basically saying, ‘Listen, if we want to get back to work, I don’t understand how we’re going to do that, actually, without being able to test regularly, reliably, point-of-care, and rapidly get the results back in a few minutes,” Redlener said. “So I’m kind of stuck. And I’m distressed by this sort of pitched battle between the economists and the politicians that want us to get the back to work — legitimately — and the public health people saying, ‘It’s too early. It’s too soon to do that.’ So I don’t know what you think, but I’m still in a quandary about that. It’s a very difficult decision. It’s not even a decision for the experts. It’s a decision for our whole society to have to make in some way.”

“If I was the governor of a state and said, ‘We want to reopen,’ I would say, ‘But first I need these tests that are at point-of-contact and are rapid and reliable.’ That would be the key to getting us back to normal more quickly than we are currently anticipating,” Redlener said.

He warned that inadequate safety precautions will cause a spike in coronavirus infections and deaths.

“We have 30 other states rather that are preparing to do some degree of reopening,” Redlener noted. “I spoke to the mayors of Georgia’s two largest cities within the last few days — Atlanta and Augusta — and they are mortified. The mayor of Atlanta tells me —  she looks out at the streets in Atlanta — and she’s stunned to see people gathering together, not keeping a safe distance, and hardly anybody wearing masks.”

“Even though the governor’s order said, ‘We’re reopening, but you need to still maintain some social distancing, and so on,’ the people took the first three words, which were ‘We want to reopen’ as the overriding message and then the hell with the rest of it, we’re back to normal. But they’re not,” Redlener said. “They’re going to see a big wave of new cases of coronavirus and deaths associated with it.”

Breitbart News Tonight broadcasts live on SiriusXM Patriot channel 125 weeknights from 9:00 p.m. to midnight Eastern or 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Pacific.

Follow Robert Kraychik on Twitter.


Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.