Background: The epidemiological situation generated by COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of applying non-pharmacological measures in the management of the epidemic. Mass screening of the asymptomatic general population has been established as a priority strategy by carrying out diagnostic tests to detect possible cases, isolate contacts, cut transmission chains and thus limit the spread of the virus.
Objective: To evaluate the economic impact of mass COVID-19 screenings of an asymptomatic population during the first and second wave of the epidemic in Catalonia, Spain.
Methodology: Cost-Benefit Analysis based on the estimated total costs of mass screening versus health gains and associated health costs avoided.
Results: Excluding the value of monetized health, the Benefit-Cost ratio was estimated at 0.45, a low value that would seem to advise against mass screening policies. However, if monetized health is included, the ratio is close to 1.20, reversing the interpretation. In other words, the monetization of health is the critical element that tips the scales in favour of the desirability of screening. Results show that the interventions with the highest return are those that maximize the percentage of positives detected.
Conclusion: Efficient management of resources for the policy of mass screening in asymptomatic populations can generate high social returns. The positivity rate critically determines its desirability. Likewise, precocity in the detection of cases will cut more transmissions in the chain of contagion and increase the economic return of these interventions. Maximizing the value of resources depends on screening strategies being accompanied by contact-tracing and specific in their focus, targeting, for example, high-risk subpopulations with the highest rate of expected positives.
Keywords: COVID-19; asymptomatic screening; cost benefit analysis; economic analysis; mass testing; non-pharmacological interventions; test-tracking-quarantine.