Fred Hutch and University of Washington experts: Treat COVID-19 earlier to save lives

New review article in Open Forum Infectious Diseases suggests “golden opportunity being missed”
Photo of researcher Joshua Schiffer
Dr. Joshua Schiffer Fred Hutch News Service | Robert Hood

SEATTLE — June 16, 2020 — Infectious disease experts from Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and UW Medicine are advocating for earlier actions to reduce hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19.

In a new review article published in Open Forum Infectious Diseases, the researchers outlined the strategy necessary to diagnose and treat the disease before it becomes uncontrollable. It includes:

  • The need for widely available home testing with nasal self-swabbing
  • Smaller, rapid studies using viral-shedding metrics and symptoms to measure risk of disease progression
  • The ability to safely deliver therapies to infected patients’ homes
  • Including disproportionately affected minority and underserved communities

“Without a vaccine, the best way to keep people out of the hospital and potentially dying from COVID-19 is to diagnose and treat early,” said lead author Dr. Joshua Schiffer, a physician and researcher in Fred Hutch’s Vaccine and Infectious Disease Division. “We’ve seen similar strategies for other infectious diseases like HIV, Ebola, and influenza significantly lower transmission rates and mortality and believe it would have the same types of benefits for COVID-19.”

The authors note that most COVID-19-related clinical trials are evaluating therapies in patients who are already hospitalized. Given that the median time between development of symptoms and need for hospitalization is a week, they believe, “A golden opportunity to intervene early is being missed.”

Fred Hutch researchers are playing a leading role in an international scientific response to the pandemic — tracking the virus's spread, developing diagnostic tests, designing vaccine trials, and working to prevent future outbreaks. For more information, visit Fred Hutch’s Coronavirus Overview.


At Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, home to three Nobel laureates, interdisciplinary teams of world-renowned scientists seek new and innovative ways to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer, HIV/AIDS, and other life-threatening diseases. Fred Hutch’s pioneering work in bone marrow transplantation led to the development of immunotherapy, which harnesses the power of the immune system to treat cancer. An independent, nonprofit research institute based in Seattle, Fred Hutch houses the nation’s first National Cancer Institute-funded cancer prevention research program, as well as the clinical coordinating center of the Women’s Health Initiative and the international headquarters of the HIV Vaccine Trials Network.