Can rapid tests keep up with new COVID strains?


The Trump Administration is sending 150 million rapid point-of-care tests to all 50 states for free. (Nexstar)

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — COVID-19 testing has become a way a life. It’s how we know when to return to work, when to isolate and when to quarantine.

Dr. Ed Walsh, infectious disease expert with Rochester Regional Health says from the moment rapid tests entered the market, doctors warned of lower quality, compared to gold standard PCR tests.

“At best a rapid home test Is going to pick up maybe 30 to 40% of asymptomatic individuals,” Dr. Walsh said.

You can trust a positive result, but never a negative one. But can each new strain of COVID keep up?

Dr. Walsh says it’s too soon to tell, especially with dozens of testing companies on the market.

“Some of the more new tests coming out are a little less tested over time, and so there is variability when people look at various testing, comparing one to another,” he said. This could be due to chemical characteristics of how the test is built, and reagents used to test the virus.

“This would lead to differences in what we call sensitivity in tests,” he said.

In the meantime, he says we have to learn to live with the uncertainty. PCR tests can be especially hard to come by, and even then, results take a few days.

If you’re exposed to COVID-19, and test negative with or without symptoms, you can never be too sure. Continue with caution, mask-up and follow up with a PCR test if possible.

“You should consider yourself potentially infectious for at least a ten day period,” said Dr. Walsh.

So what does all this mean for the future of testing?

Some doctors across the country are suggesting it’s the way we take a sample that could change with some variants.

Other early studies show it might be faster to test with saliva. But until there’s peer-reviewed science to back this all up — Dr. Walsh urges we stay cautious.

Here’s where you can find a COVID-19 test in Monroe County. Click here for a list of testing sites near you.

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