One reason why the coronavirus pandemic has gotten so unbelievably out of control is that access to testing has been limited ever since the outbreak began. These days, it's easier to get a test than back when the pandemic first broke. But "easier" is a relative term, and in hotspots (which, let's face it, is pretty much the bulk of the country these days), people can find themselves waiting for hours at clinics or drive-through testing centers to get swabbed.
As if that weren't bad enough, the demand for COVID-19 testing is so high that results are getting delayed, so those who take a test might easily wait three or four days -- or longer -- to find out whether they're actually infected.
It's these testing-related constraints that have fueled the pandemic's growth and
made a return to normalcy impossible for the time being. But on Nov. 18, the public got some good news on the coronavirus testing front: The FDA has just approved the first at-home rapid test for COVID-19, and once that test becomes widely available, it could help people rejoin society with less concern.
A touch of hope
In the past two weeks, there's been encouraging news on the coronavirus vaccine front. First, Pfizer (NYSE: PFE) announced its mRNA vaccine candidate is over 90% effective at preventing COVID-19 infection. Moderna (NASDAQ: MRNA) came out with a similar announcement a few days later, pointing to an efficacy rate of nearly 95%.
But while positive news regarding vaccine development is great, it's also been made clear that even if these drug cocktails manage to obtain emergency-use authorization from the FDA, it will still be months until they're widely available to everyone. This means Americans are potentially looking at being holed up in their homes until April, May, or June -- if not beyond.
An effective at-home test changes that, to some degree. If people have the means to not only test themselves from home but also receive results on the spot, that should, in theory, minimize the need for people to quarantine. And the less people need to stay home, the more apt they'll be to hit the stores -- a trend retailers desperately need, given the year they've had.
In fact, a rapid at-home coronavirus test could be what saves holiday shopping. People who fear they've been exposed to the virus may soon be able to enter malls with confidence, knowing they're not harboring an infection that could put fellow shoppers in harm's way.
One missing piece of the puzzle is how accurate this new at-home test is. The FDA, unfortunately, did not release details on that. But the fact the agency has approved the test lends credence to the fact it works reasonably well.
Of course, a rapid at-home COVID test may not completely solve the conundrum of safe holiday shopping. While those who take the test and get negative results may be able to hit the stores with confidence they won't infect anyone, that doesn't mean they won't risk exposure to other people who are infected without knowing it.
The Millionacres bottom line
As such, real estate investors shouldn't expect news of an approved at-home test to change the dire near-term outlook for retailers all that much. Still, it might help ever so slightly. And at a time like this, that's certainly better than nothing.