Front Med (Lausanne). 2021 May 7;8:615099. doi: 10.3389/fmed.2021.615099. eCollection 2021.
Diagnostic testing plays a critical role in addressing the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, caused by Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). Rapid and accurate diagnostic tests are imperative for identifying and managing infected individuals, contact tracing, epidemiologic characterization, and public health decision making. Laboratory testing may be performed based on symptomatic presentation or for screening of asymptomatic people. Confirmation of SARS-CoV-2 infection is typically by nucleic acid amplification tests (NAAT), which requires specialized equipment and training and may be particularly challenging in resource-limited settings. NAAT may give false-negative results due to timing of sample collection relative to infection, improper sampling of respiratory specimens, inadequate preservation of samples, and technical limitations; false-positives may occur due to technical errors, particularly contamination during the manual real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) process. Thus, clinical presentation, contact history and contemporary phyloepidemiology must be considered when interpreting results. Several sample-to-answer platforms, including high-throughput systems and Point of Care (PoC) assays, have been developed to increase testing capacity and decrease technical errors. Alternatives to RT-PCR assay, such as other RNA detection methods and antigen tests may be appropriate for certain situations, such as resource-limited settings. While sequencing is important to monitor on-going evolution of the SARS-CoV-2 genome, antibody assays are useful for epidemiologic purposes. The ever-expanding assortment of tests, with varying clinical utility, performance requirements, and limitations, merits comparative evaluation. We herein provide a comprehensive review of currently available COVID-19 diagnostics, exploring their pros and cons as well as appropriate indications. Strategies to further optimize safety, speed, and ease of SARS-CoV-2 testing without compromising accuracy are suggested. Access to scalable diagnostic tools and continued technologic advances, including machine learning and smartphone integration, will facilitate control of the current pandemic as well as preparedness for the next one.