From Iceland — Fastsplaining: Drive-by COVID-19 Screening

Valur Grettisson
Photo by
Art Bicnick

65 people have been infected by COVID-19 at the time of this writing, and these numbers change quite rapidly. The infected were Icelanders returning from a ski trip in Italy and Austria, or were in immediate contact with them.

Of those 65 cases, 13 have caught the virus in Iceland, and all could be traced to the skiers. This means that the government are still holding the virus back successfully, although it’s believed it’s only a matter of time until it will transmit between Icelanders unrelated to these two places.

One of those infected was a cab driver who had driven passengers who were travelling from Italy, but authorities said everybody that was in contact with the driver was found and quarantined.

Unique screening

One of the biggest news stories of last week was that deCODE Genetics are going to screen Icelanders for COVID-19, offering a sort of “drive-thru” service for symptomatic Icelanders. The Directorate of Health in Iceland says this is a unique measure world wide. The CEO of deCODE, Kári Stefánsson, said that deCODE Genetics will also focus on mutations in the virus, possibly helping to develop a cure.

But what is deCODE Genetics? In the New York Times it said that deCODE quickly became the leader in the worldwide race to identify the causes of common diseases. The company’s researchers discovered mutations linked to schizophrenia, heart disease, diabetes, prostate cancer and many other illnesses. Its approach was to identify the mutations first in Icelanders and then to confirm them in other populations.

The swabbings for COVID-19 will be heavily regulated by The Data Protection Authority as well as the Directorate of Health. The swabbing will be a part of clinical research, but deCODE already is in extensive collaboration with health officials when coming to analyse genetic disease and illnesses with unknown causes. Also, they have made a huge databank called the Book of Icelanders, where everyone born in Iceland can look up their heritage online.


But how will deCODE achieve this huge task, to test over 300,000 people? Simple – a drive-thru! The tests haven’t started yet, and they will in the coming days, but Kári has said in interviews that this will most likely be a drive-thru service for Icelanders. They will stick their head out, and a scientist in their gear will swab them quickly and categorise the samples. Makes sense, right?

If you don’t trust them for some reason, you don’t have to get tested. But if you want to be sure that you don’t have the virus, and want to perhaps contribute to the cure, this would be ideal. And of course, this is free service.

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