John Maynard Keynes once famously observed that there’s nothing as disastrous as a rational investment policy in an irrational world. But when it comes to public health, rational policies make sense even in an irrational or chaotic time like the midst of a severe pandemic.

When the government ignores rational health policy, and instead follows unsound ones, the effects can last longer than anyone expects. That’s what happened with the federal government’s unfounded resistance to home HIV testing, which cost millions of lives and trillions of dollars. We see similar resistance regarding home Covid-19 tests, which are being disparaged because they might not yield demographic data or might be misinterpreted. Putting up barriers to home testing would be disastrous.

In the 1980s, home testing for HIV also made sense. But we were ridiculed for believing that HIV, a sexually transmitted virus with a decade long period between infection and the onset of outward symptoms, could be transmitted heterosexually and become a pandemic. In meetings, federal health officials laughed at our idea that empowering people to test in the privacy of their homes for a sexually transmitted virus could dramatically reduce new infections.

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Originally published on STAT News (November 16, 2020)