*This article is adapted from a longer paper published in the University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform. To access the original paper, please click here.
By April Xiaoyi Xu
A test-and-isolate system for detecting and monitoring new pathogens could avert future pandemics, but may face legal challenges in implementation.
The test-and-isolate model is described in a 2020 Scientific American article by biochemist David Ecker. Ecker recommends strategically placing modern, high-speed metagenomic sequencing technology in urban hospitals across the United States to flag previously-unknown pathogens before the infectious agents have the opportunity to spread widely and potentially start a new pandemic.
Under this model, during a time period without any apparent pandemics, the 200 biggest metropolitan hospitals in the U.S. would automatically run diagnostic tests up-front for novel causative agents among patients who visit the emergency room with severe respiratory symptoms that are possibly infectious. If such a system detects a sufficiently serious pathogen, public health agencies will send out diagnostic tests to all residents in the affected geographical area(s) within weeks and isolate those who test positive. This system also will be integrated with contact tracing and more standard outbreak response.