Some people turn to at-home COVID testing with demand so high. Is it accurate?

SPOKANE, Wash– With omicron surging across the Inland Northwest, demand for COVID-19 testing is still at an all-time high.

With mass testing sites in the area seeing such high demand, some people are turning to at-home antigen tests. There has been some mixed messaging about how accurate they are.

Spokane Regional Health District’s health officer Dr. Frank Velazquez said they work really well. He said the higher the transmission rate is in the community, the more effective rapid tests are.

According to Dr. Velazquez, if you’re rapid antigen test is positive, you are also positive.

“If you’re negative, you’re negative unless further testing, such as PCR because you become symptomatic or anything along those lines, proves otherwise,” he said.

Mass retailers have at-home COVID-19 rapid antigen tests available.

Both PCR tests and at-home antigen tests, detect positivity based on the viral load. People who are asymptomatic have a smaller viral load.

A PCR test is able to detect positivity with smaller viral loads, whereas at-home antigen tests cannot.

To combat that window, Dr. Velazquez explained for the most accurate results, you have to test twice.

Discovery Health, which operates Spokane’s two mass testing sites, confirmed their PCR test results are still coming back within 48 to 72 hours.

“When you do one, followed by a second one within 24 to 48 hours, your ability to detect goes up quite dramatically,” he said. “It’s consistent with the diagnostic ability of PCR tests, and the reason for that is you’ve eliminated that window of lower viral load that a matter of 12 to 16 hours.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said at-home testing can also be used as one of many risk-reduction measures, along with vaccination, masking, and physical distancing.

CDC guidelines recommend people get tested on day five of close contact exposure regardless of whether or not they have symptoms.

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