ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Back in September, the University of Rochester Medical Center announced a rapid 15-minute test to detect COVID-19 had been FDA-approved for emergency use after clinical trials. On Monday, schools began administering that same test in “yellow zones.”
The test, Abbott BinaxNOW, has a 97% success rate for detecting COVID-19 in patients suspected of COVID-19 by their healthcare provider within the first seven days of symptoms onset, according to the company. Kian Merchant-Borna is one of the researchers at URMC who led the clinical trials for the test. He says antigen tests just extract from the surface of a viral particle, so they aren’t as accurate as tests that extract from a DNA particle. However, this particular rapid test came out to be more accurate than anticipated, according to Merchant-Borna.
“The classification accuracy was exceptionally high, much higher than expected,” he said.
The test is nasal swab. It does not go as far in the nasal passage as other tests do. The sample goes into a folder the size of a credit card – and in 15 minutes – you have your results. Merchant-Borna says it’s the same technology as a pregnancy test. One line means positive, two negative.
“It’s called Lateral Flow technology, it’s decades old and has been around, it’s just applied to the COVID-19 antigen,” he said.
Merchant-Borna says with the turnaround time being so fast – it’s convenient to test mass groups of people at once. But, there’s a tradeoff.
“With a little bit more speed there is a trade off of accuracy,” he said. While accuracy of the test came out to be better than anticipated, it still won’t be on the level of a PCR test – the test that extracts DNA from a virus.
“For the masses, large groups of students who would otherwise not have a test, this is a great first start,” he said.
This test is only FDA-approved for emergency use, which means there is still ongoing research and trials before it will be available to the general public for potential at-home use.
Merchant-Borna says the federal government purchased the first batch of the test, and will distribute as they see fit. For now – that means schools and nursing homes get priority usage. College students at the University of Rochester will also receive the test. The tests are administered under the supervision of a medical expert.