Rapid Antigen Tests…Game changer or more hype?
We have been fielding a lot of calls requesting the new Rapid Antigen Tests so widely reported on and touted by the CDC as a “game changer”.
Because of the CDC’s endorsement and the White House announcement that they intend to buy 150 million of them with $750 Million of our tax dollars its expected people would want to know.
A cheap, accurate test that produces rapid results has potential to restore some level of normalcy to our lives and even save lives.
So is this new Rapid Antigen Test for COVID-19 test the answer to our hopes? We’ve been here before though and if there is anything to be learned from our rush to embrace tests and test technologies that have been touted by manufacturers as accurate, reliable fast tests it’s that manufacturers are in business to make money and concerns about the quality of their tests in real world application are secondary to shareholder gains.
The good news though is that there are several companies with solid track records producing Rapid Antigen Tests for the detection of COVID-19. Some are domestic products and others are produced in countries such as South Korea where COVID-19 Testing has been going on for nearly a year, and test accuracy among the products and companies is often better than those we’ve had in the US.
How good are Rapid Antigen Tests for the detection of COVID-19?
As a technology Antigen Tests are a A- grade assay compared to the gold standard PCR tests that average 99% accuracy. A rapid test simply cannot compete with a lab test that amplifies RNA, is analyzed on high-tech equipment operated by a scientist in a lab environment, which is what a PCR test is. Compared to a Rapid Antibody Test which is akin to flipping a coin with about 55% accuracy the Antigen test though is a massive improvement.
Though you won’t find a Rapid Test Manufacturer touting anything less than 95% accuracy and 99% sensitivity the fact is that their self-reported data will not translate to real-world use, unless you narrow the type of people being screened to exclude the elderly, frail and those with a weak immune system.
So where does that leave us?
Rapid Antigen Tests for the detection of COVID-19 will likely open up stadiums, flights to Hawaii and myriad other now restricted places and types of gatherings. They are accurate enough that for those of us that are not in a high-risk group an Antigen test is as advertised.
If I think I’ve been exposed to COVID-19 should I get a Rapid Antigen Test?
I would recommend getting a rapid antigen test because of the immediate results. If you are truly quarantined and plan to remain that way I'd suggest a PCR test over a Rapid Antigen Test..
Is a Rapid Antigen Test the right product for testing employees in the workplace? That depends on why you are testing. If there is a suspected breakout or exposure a PCR test leaves you with the choice of sending potentially sick employees back to work along side healthy team members while you await results, or close business until results are in.
Doing both, rapid testing employees, followed by a confirming PCR is a better better but costly option. Any decision should be made after speaking to one of our experts here because if an employee is infected at work they can file a Workers Comp claim and potentially sue for damages. Being as close to 100% certain whether you have any infected employees is a prudent investment.
If you are testing proactively –not because of a suspected breakout or exposure- a Rapid Antigen Test for the detection of COVID-19 is a great option. Same day results and a lower price point make this test the right product for your needs. The same is true if you are conducting frequent or ongoing testing of your staff. Accuracy measures increase as people are tested more often.
For settings such as studios or production houses where people are creating media content daily testing is mandatory and the Rapid Antigen Test is the perfect product. Same with testing live audiences or attendees at any entertainment event.
Is the Rapid Antigen Test our Savior?
Not quite. This test technology will open up a good portion of businesses and free up many places and types of public interaction so the profound impact on our lives cannot be understated. Still, accepting that 1-3 of twenty people tested may be infected is not ideal, leaving work to be done either on the test accuracy of the products already here or with another technology that can solve for our global needs.