Biden to expand access to home livening kits: 4 fundamental readings on the critical role of rapid tests

By Matt Williams, Conversation

President Joe Biden has outlined a plan to massively ramp up COVID-19 testing in an effort to limit – or at least slow down – the spread of the highly infectious omicron variant across the US.

In a speech on December 21, 2021, Biden said he wanted to do “as many tests as possible as quickly as possible” and said free home kits would be sent to Americans starting from January.

At the forefront of efforts to combat omicron variation will be new federal testing sites and distribution of 500 million free rapid tests to the public. To enable rapid deployment of the tests, the White House pledged to use the Defense Production Act, which allows the federal government to “allocate materials, services, and facilities” from the private sector. to meet the needs of the country.

The focus on testing comes at a time of high demand for infection diagnostic kits. The appearance of the omicron variant coincided with many people’s desire to get tested before meeting loved ones over the holiday season, leading to long queues outside testing sites and running home kits. are sold in pharmacies.

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, The Conversations’ team of medical experts have been on hand to explain why testing is such an important part of the response.

1) What exactly is a rapid COVID-19 test?

The type of test that Biden is hoping to get into the hands of Americans is a rapid antigen test.

Antigen tests quickly look for proteins from the virus that may be present in samples collected through saliva or nasal swabs.

The tests are relatively cheap and quick, with results known in about 15 minutes. However, they are not 100% reliable and may miss the early stages of COVID-19 infection.

A more accurate PCR test is usually done by a doctor or healthcare professional – although some are available for home use – and then the samples are sent to a lab.

Like the rapid test, the first step in a PCR test is to collect the genetic material – again, saliva or a swab.

After that initial process, the sample is amplified through a complex process that causes the test DNA to replicate until there are a billion copies of the original fragment.

This allows for a very high level of accuracy, with the test being able to detect the slightest presence of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

But as Nathaniel Hafer, an expert in molecular medicine at UMass Chan School of Medicine, notes, PCR testing has its weaknesses — PCR tests can cost as much as $100 or more and can take several days to complete. have resulted.

It’s important to note that all tests are snapshots at the time of sample collection and are more likely to be accurate when a person is infectious. So people are encouraged to take multiple tests 24 hours apart.

2. Why quick testing is important – especially now

Although less accurate, antigen tests can be especially helpful at a time when many people need to get tested.

As Hafer notes in a separate article for The Conversation, quizzes are “a welcome tool in society’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.”

He advises readers to get tested, be it PCR or antigen, as soon as they show symptoms of COVID-19. And the same is true whether someone has been vaccinated or not.

“The quicker you can determine if you have COVID-19, the sooner you can isolate yourself, which helps prevent transmission to others,” he wrote.

And even if someone gets a negative antigen result, it shouldn’t be assumed they’re in the clear. Anyone with symptoms will be advised to have a rapid PCR test or a follow-up test.

3) So how do you use a home test kit?

One of the big benefits of rapid testing is that it can be done at home – no lab setup or skilled lab technicians are required.

Zoë McLaren, a public health policy expert at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, explained how readers should use their home test.

First of all, plan ahead.

“It’s important to have a plan for what to do based on the test results. If you receive a positive result, immediately take precautions to prevent slow transmission, such as self-isolating, letting those close to you know about the test results and reporting the case to health authorities. economy,” wrote McLaren. Even if you get a negative result, you should be cautious, “and if you have symptoms or known exposure, you should do a rapid antigen test or a follow-up PCR test in the case of the first test. is a false negative. ”

According to McLaren, a second rapid test performed 24-36 hours after the first can help detect coronavirus cases that may have been missed the first time due to insufficient viral loads.

4) And if you still can’t do the quick test?

Despite the massive rollout of rapid tests announced by Biden, there could still be difficulty finding a kit.

Loss of smell or taste could be a sign of a COVID-19 infection. John Hayes and Cara Exten, both at Penn State, recount how the mother of a recent graduate discovered she couldn’t smell or taste her familiar cup of coffee. She was isolated and tested quickly, the result was positive.

The fact that she confirmed her suspicions using an antigen test underscores a key point: If you have little indication that you may have COVID-19 or have been in contact with someone who does, you You should get tested to be sure.

“Using odor loss as a COVID-19 test is far from perfect. But because daily odor testing is so specific, instantaneous, and completely free, it is a very useful testing tool,” Hayes and Exten write.

Editor’s Note: This story is a collection of articles from The Conversation’s archives.Conversation

Matt Williams, Breaking News Editor, Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


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