Design of COVID-19 Testing Queues
34 Pages Posted: 2 Nov 2020
Date Written: October 1, 2020
In the event of a virus outbreak such as COVID-19, testing is key. However, long waiting lines at testing facilities often discourage individuals from getting tested. This paper studies how testing facilities should set scheduling and pricing policies to incentivize individuals to test, with the goal to identify the most cases of infection. Our findings are as follows. First, under the FIFO discipline, the common practice of making testing free attracts the most testees, but may not catch the most cases. Charging a testing fee may surprisingly improve case detection. Second, even though people who show symptoms are more likely to carry the virus, prioritizing these individuals over asymptomatic ones (another common practice) may let more cases go undetected than FIFO testing does. Third, we characterize the optimal scheduling and pricing policy. To maximize case detection, there is no need to charge a testing fee; instead, it is optimal to give (partial) priority to asymptomatic testees when testing demand is moderately low, but (partially) prioritize individuals with symptoms when testing demand becomes high.
Keywords: COVID-19, testing, queues, symptoms, hit rate, service discipline, priority
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